Source: Juan Alcaraz (POLICE ISSUES)

Although the Spanish prison population has declined significantly after the reform of the Penal Code of 2010, when it reduced the sentences to small drug dealers and introduced the replacement of the penalty (imposed or envisaged) of foreign criminals for expulsion to their country ; there are still 60,000 prisoners (59,400 exactly, at the time of writing this article), of which 4,400 are women and 16,600 are foreigners.

According to the latest report of the Network of Social Organizations of the Penitentiary Environment, it is a high amount. Our prison population is 32% higher than the European average despite the fact that crime is 27% below. The explanation they give is that the sentences are longer here than in the rest of the continent. The stay in prison is the third highest after Turkey and Romania. The average duration is about 18 months, when in Europe as a whole it is 7. According to the authors of the study, if the incarceration rate were to be adapted to reality, half of the prisoners should be free.

If this conclusion is taken to the economic field, it would mean a saving of 630 million euros, because each prisoner costs the Government 62.5 euros per day; about 1,800 euros per month and around 21,600 million euros per year; if all the expenses involved in a prison are taken into account, according to the calculations made by the Professional Association of Prison Officials. If we want a reference of what this means, it means that the State spends more on the maintenance of a prisoner than on the unemployment benefit of a father with a child, whose maximum scale is 1,242 euros per month.

When dealing with the management of the prison population, costs are not the most relevant aspect because the objective that should guide the penitentiary policy is the reintegration of prisoners and here the results of our system are mixed. Some people taking advantage of a long sentence have taken a university degree and there are also repeat offenders in their “specialty”. Most criminologists agree that the perpetrators of common crimes (robberies, thefts, tugs …) can be rehabilitated over time, but murderers and perverts, never.

The alarm caused by some of these events, led the Popular Party (PP) Government to implement the Permanent Revisionable Prison (PPR) in 2015. Although, according to numerous surveys, the imposition of this penalty is defended by 8 out of 10 Spaniards, this popular support is not reflected in the political parties that have representation in the Congress of Deputies. PP and Ciudadanos want to expand its scope of application but its amendments have been rejected by the rest of the political groups. On the contrary, a proposal formulated by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) supported by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidos-Podemos to repeal this measure has been approved.

Although the criminality rebounded -lightly- in Spain, in 2017 (going from 43.2 infractions per thousand inhabitants, to 43.8); it is doubtful that radical changes will be made in the penitentiary policy. Even the possible repeal of the Permanent Reviewable Prison would not significantly shorten the duration of the sentences.


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