Tuesday, November 30

The four moments of high danger in a prison


When he began his career, the Alicante prison official JL was told the usual phrase that is said to the novice when starting: “In your prison life you will take at least one hit and count at least one kill ”. JL has been this Wednesday one of the hundreds of prison workers who have concentrated half an hour at noon before the Government sub-delegations in the provinces of the prison territory governed by the Ministry of the Interior, all of Spain except Catalonia and the Basque Country.

They have been called to protest by the Acaip-UGT and CSIF – in full collective conflict with Interior – before the attacks on officials that are posted this fall. The protest comes after a sexual assault on a teacher in Jaén prison, an attempted homicide in Cuenca and the breaking of two teeth of an official in Logroño.

Prison officials protest rally in front of the Logroño prison, where the last serious attack on a prison worker took place.

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The issue of intramural violence surfaces again, despite the fact that the statistics do not indicate more incidence of conflict. According to data from the General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions, there are downward trend in the number of such incidents: 359 in 2016, 305 in 2017, 223 in 2018 and 2019, and 176 last year. “But in 2016 the criteria for counting attacks changed as a result of the approval of a new protocol,” they clarify in Acaip-UGT.

The incidence does not go up; another thing is the seriousness of the cases. The scene of the head of the Cuenca prison service, arriving at the hospital on the 27th with a large hemorrhage gushing from his neck after a prisoner cut him with glass. The case, like that of Jaén and Logroño, passes to the baggage accumulated by prison officials throughout Spain, which leads them to identify, like veteran prisoners, the four high-risk moments that occur in a prison.

1.- The transfer

“Any prisoner from Eastern Europe becomes dangerous when they are going to be extradited,” says FL, an official in a Barcelona prison. His colleagues know that a foreign inmate in extradition process will have the temptation to attack a security guard to provoke him to be prosecuted and serve a sentence in Spain, avoid being transferred to a prison in “Bulgaria, Ukraine or Georgia, which are more feared,” explains the watchman.

In the same way, the transfer between modules or between prisons is contrary to the prisoner who already has his life made in his usual cell. The beating of a Logroño official last Saturday occurred when the attacking dam was being transferred.

2.- The requisition

One of the moments of greatest danger experienced recently in the Ponent prison (Lleida) took place last Saturday, the 6th, when the security service of the center intercepted the entry of five mobiles (they are prohibited) and of various doses of drugs. After the search, the guard crew had to be used to the full to avoid a tumultuous fight in an area without video surveillance.

Improvised weapons seized in the Picassent Penitentiary (Valencia) in 2018.

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“The tension grows a lot after a search, especially if it is for drugs. In this case, the endowments of the modules have to be reinforced, because there are people who run out of use and will get excited, and because the drug left inside will become something scarce to fight for “, explains LR, a veteran of the Soto del Real prison in Madrid.

Among the moments of danger due to a limitation to the prisoner is also the prohibition of communications or visits from abroad. The last big, and general, took place during the anticovid confinement in the spring of 2020, “but it ended very well, because the prisoners understood the situation very soon,” explain sources from the General Secretariat.

3.- The agglomerations

The hours of breakfast, lunch and dinner are three moments of possible “regimental incident”, which is what bureaucratic jargon calls cases of attacks on officials or between prisoners. “It is a time of tumult, of many people together, who take advantage of the rioters looking for confusion”, explains JL

This is the perfect place for the most frequent violent act in prison, which is not the attack on the civil servant: according to Interior data, between 2016 and 2020 23,049 incidents between inmates have been registered, you usually fight. 20% of the prison population in Spain – more than 55,000 people this year – is susceptible to a violent incident, according to the experience of Acaip. The percentage grows to a third for fights with another inmate.

That is why the low incidence of homicides is curious. The last “regimental incident” resulting in death took place in Alicante in the summer of 2019. One prisoner attacked another because he was snoring. The snorer pushed his cellmate away. The protester fell fatally hitting his head on the sink.

4.- The distribution of medicines

Civil health and the penitentiary still do not have enough connection to eliminate tension peaks such as the one that causes a delay in the distribution of medication to prison inmates. “And that is one of the unfortunately most frequent reasons for altercations,” they explain in Acaip.

It does not necessarily have to be psychiatric medication, no matter how much outbreaks of mental problems are feared by officials, especially in Catalonia according to union sources. The lack of medical personnel further heats up the tension on the delays.

The State will pay

Violence in prisons is a classic of penitentiary life, an intramural endemism, but the tension between the civil servants reappears due to the issue in stages – such as the current one – of labor conflict with the Ministry of the Interior or the Generalitat.

Prison officials fill out a questionnaire like this each time they have to intervene with the use of force in so-called “regimental incidents”.

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We are now living a period similar to that of 2018. On Sunday, July 22 of that year, the prisoner EB of the Madrid IV Penitentiary Center (Navalcarnero) jumped out of his mind on a trainee officer in module 6 of that prison. The intern bit off part of his right ear. Other officials present managed to prevent him from swallowing the piece of meat and, with it recovered from his mouth, sending the victim to the hospital for reconstructive surgery. Earlier, the effort to reduce EB and open his mouth resulted in four other injuries, one of them with a broken finger.

In December of that year, the Secretary General of Penitentiary Institutions appeared in Congress, Angel Luis Ortiz, and offered the official count of attacks on officials up to that month: 218. The figure was on the decline: in 2017 there had been 305 and 475 in 2010. Ortiz defended that the State be responsible for the compensation to the victim if the person convicted of an attack is insolvent. The proposal has not yet materialized, frozen in the draft Prison Public Function Law that was stopped in February, although prison sources tell this newspaper that it could be resumed very soon, and after the chain of attacks registered since last October.


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