Updated on 9 November 2020
An inmate showing symptoms compatible with Covid-19, or who has been in close contact with another person testing positive for Covid-19, will be placed in infirmary of the prison, in particular in the health isolation cells specially created to this end. The inmate will be tested by health care staff and provided with a face mask.
If the inmate tests positive of Covid-19, health case staff will decide the kind of treatment required for this person who will be preferably transferred to the Prison Hospital of Terrassa or will remain in the prison infirmary. Also, a thorough study of the individuals with whom s/he has been in close contact with to the date of isolation, will be undertaken and the appropriate measures will be applied to such contacts. The inmates that have been in contact with an infected person will also be placed separately in the infirmary of the prison and the course of action for potential cases will be implemented by health care staff.
The surfaces and rooms that a potential or confirmed case has been using, will be properly cleaned and disinfected according to the Health Department standards. The cleaning services provision has been intensified. New contracts have been signed with companies specialised on disinfection. Personal hygiene packs for inmates have been increased.
Upon admission, if the inmate shows symptoms or expresses having been in contact with someone with symptoms or a confirmed case, s/he will be transferred to a cell to be assessed by health staff who will decide whether s/he shall be placed in a health isolation cell. The rest of newly arrived inmates that are not isolated for health reasons, will be placed in a separate unit for 14 days before being transferred to the assigned unit.
In either case, newly arrived inmates will have access to the same kind of products they could access if placed in their assigned unit. They will also enjoy the outdoor time regularly allowed to inmates in the unit. When spending time outdoors, will only be grouped with other new inmates that have arrived the same day.
Transfers among prison establishments are postponed except for those that are strictly indispensable and those required for health reasons. Transfers to court premises are limited to those strictly indispensable which cannot take place through videoconference.
All kinds of family visits have been suspended until health authorities establish that these do not longer pose a risk to the inmates’ health. The possibility to bring parcels for inmates into the prison has been suspended.
In order to mitigate such restrictions, the number of phone calls inmates can make to their relatives has been increased from 10 to 20 per week (8 minutes per call). The cost of the calls made by those inmates that have no income is covered by every prison budget, also when the relatives live abroad. The possibility to make a collect call is always available.
In order to enable visual contact among inmates and their families as for 26 March additional electronic means are being piloted in a limited number of prisons:
The scheduling and allocation of video calls are being done by prison staff following the same rules that those applied to the actual family visits. The use and performance of the devices are always being managed by prison staff. The areas where such communications are taking place should allow for both, sufficient privacy for the inmate as well as for the required supervision by prison staff. Very detailed instructions have been provided for the cleaning process of the devices after each use.
Prisons placed in areas with a higher number of infections in the community, family visits have been suspended again and VCO, video calls and double time of phone calls are applied instead. Professionals and consulate representatives, when the VCO or video call does not suffice, will be able to visit inmates in a room with a glass partition. Measures such as temperature measurement, facemask and hydroalcoholic gel and 1,5 m distance are required. In other prisons located in areas when the number of positive cases is not as high, family visits are still possible but only 50% of the family relatives will be able to visit each prisoner each time, always according to the schedule previously arranged and with all health security measures including temperature measurement, facemask and hydroalcoholic gel and 1,5 m distance. As you may know, positive cases in Spain and in Catalonia, are rapidly increasing and the regulation of the visits is constantly being reviewed in order to adjust the protective measures for inmates in the prison, to the current risk of covid-19 outbreak in the community
Defence lawyers have been requested to preferably make use of the videoconference call system regularly available in Bar associations all over Catalonia (one in every province). Should the actual visit be really indispensable, will the lawyer be allowed to visit his/her client in the prison. In such cases and provided that the lawyer does not present any symptoms compatible with Covid-19, the visit will take place in a room with a glass partition.
Regular visits by consulates’ representatives have been suspended. If the inmate has a need requiring the consulate intervention, the prison management will channel it via the available means so that consulate support can be provided without posing risks to the inmates’ health.
Religious services have also been suspended as these require the entrance of the religious representatives inside the prison premises. However, religious support will be provided individually to the inmate requiring it and will take place in a glass partition room as far as the religious representative does not present any symptoms compatible with Covid-19.
All kinds of prison permits, leaves and scheduled exits granted to inmates (allowed for various specific activities in the community) have been suspended until health authorities establish that these do no longer pose a risk to the inmates’ health.
All treatment and rehabilitation programmes delivered by specialised prison staff continue to operate although the schedules have been rearranged and preventative measures must be observed. Inmates from different units cannot mix in a particular session, the rooms used will be spacious enough so that safety distance among individuals can be observed.
Production workshop Continue to operate although shifts have been rearranged so that inmates from different units do not meet in the same workshop in order to prevent the spread of infection. In particular, the workshops already working on clothing manufacture are now working intensively to deliver health staff clothing ordered by the Health Department.
The bakery, cooking and serving and laundry services are considered essential, hence they continue to operate as usual. The shifts of the inmates working in these services have been rearranged to minimise the contact among inmates from different units/wings.
Education activities for adults in prisons are being provided by the Education Department of the Government of Catalonia. In the community, activity in schools, university and vocational training were suspended as from 12 March, hence these activities have also been suspended inside the prison. In the community, teachers and pupils are using e-learning tools through internet. Resorting to internet with such platforms in prisons requires additional safety measures to ensure its proper use in the prison. The Education Department is looking into ways to make it possible for inmates to resort to self-learning tools.
Physical activity when not involving physical contact, is only taking place in outdoor areas inside the prison premises and observing the safety distance between individuals. Sports entailing physical contact or proximity among individuals cannot be practiced. Gyms and indoor sports courts and pitches have been temporarily closed.
All the activities that were being undertaken inside the prison by volunteers or external staff from community agencies have been suspended. External staff is only allowed to enter the prison when they are working on drug misuse treatment programmes, sex offender’s programmes and reintegration into the labour market.
Working hours within shifts has been rearranged in order to reduce rotation of professionals. New 187 prison staff members have been hired temporarily. The pool of candidates on the reserve list has been increased in order to speed up the replacement of staff that may need to go on a sick leave.
Prison staff interacting with inmates wear a face mask. Health staff and prison staff interacting with potential or confirmed cases wear a PPE. Hand sanitisers have been installed in various places within each prison. The provision of protective equipment is being increased.
Inmates must wear face masks everywhere in the prison except when they are in their cells or if they are practicing sports outdoors with the following requirements:
• Only sports not entailing close personal contact can be practiced
• Groups of inmates belonging to the same unit at the same time, never mixing people from different units
• Must wear masks when walking towards the outdoor sport location and can only take it out when the sports activity starts.
Staff must wear face masks during all their working hours in the prison. Regular citizens in the community, must wear masks everywhere except when they are at home and when practicing sport.
Addressed to groups of no more than 10 inmates of same residential unit and in sufficiently big rooms. These sessions are meant to inform about the current restrictive measures in place inside the prisons, how to communicate with their relatives as well as about the health protocols being implemented in order to prevent infections and treat potential and positive cases. Information about the government restrictions being implemented in the community is also being explained. In the framework of these sessions, inmates can pose questions so that their concerns can be addressed by the staff.
The Secretariat for Criminal Sanctions, Rehabilitation and Victim Support is under the the supervision of the Ombudsman of Spain (Defensor del Pueblo) and that of Catalonia (Síndic de Greuges) who are regularly making inquiries on how the prison administration works with regard to the rights of inmates. Hence within their standard action, they are regularly making inquiries on different aspects concerning the Covid-19 measures implemented in prisons in the wake of the pandemic (reduced or suspended family visits replaced by VCO or video calls and double phone call, no possibility to mix with inmates from other units, quarantines, reduced leaves, shifts by staff, quarantines, provision of protective equipment etc…). Political parties through parliamentary questions, are also monitoring the action of the government including the appropriateness of the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the prison system.
In addition, the inquiries on different aspects related to the Covid-19 measures implemented in prisons by other local, Spanish and international prisoners’ support or human rights’ organizations. Inquiries on how the prisons are being managed during the pandemic from academics and other NGO’s are also answered. When preparing the answers to all types of the inquiries, the Secretariat, as any other public administration, is binded by the principle of transparency, hence it has the duty to provide truthful information.
In the framework of the Covid-19 preventive measures in the most restrictive periods, external agencies, consulates, religious representatives amongst others, were not allowed into the prisons and media were considered “external agencies”. When some of the restrictions have been lifted, under certain circumstances, some external agencies have been allowed into the prison including TV crew.
Inmates were provided information by the prison staff and in particular by social educators, who organised meetings of small groups of 10 within the same unit, to inform about the measures and health safety, answer questions and address concerns. Infographics about health safety measures, changes in prison leaves, family visits and other aspects, were posted on different areas of the prison for inmates to read (see attachments 1, 2 and 3). As the measures have been changing in order to adjust to the actual pandemic evolution, social educators continue to do this information work at the beginning of the regular activities.
With regard to staff, letters were sent to all of them in order to inform and thank for the effort. Infographics were posted on different areas about personal self-care and guidelines to inform inmates and what to do in case of needing personal support (see attachments 4 and 5).
In order to reach out to the inmates’ families, since the beginning infographics and short informative videos are being posted on the Department of Justice website, twitter and Facebook in order to clarify the information on the measures. Some of the infographics that had been published are uploaded as attachments here https://www.europris.org/directorate-general-of-prison-services-catalonia-es/. A FAQ’s section is available on the Department of Justice website and updated regularly in order to provide families more detailed information. In addition, a helpline has been set up since March, through which prison social workers continue to provide support to and answering questions from families and friends of inmates.
Under the state of alarm, the Central Estate Government is allowed to restrict rights such as circulation and mobility of citizens and following from that, the minimum restrictions on inmates’ rights that are necessary in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were imposed. Since June 2020, the state of alarm ceased and according to public health laws, the Health Departments of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain are allowed to impose restrictive measures to citizens’ rights on health emergency’s grounds provided that the Superior Court of Justice of that autonomous community, confirms that the health emergency situation actually justifies such degree of rights’ restrictions. The restrictive measures imposed on inmates in Catalonia are a joint decision by the Health and Justice Ministries in the framework of restrictions imposed in the community validated by the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia.
As of 29 of October, there are a total of 7.933 inmates in Catalan prison, of which 5.348 are in custody.
The Secretariat of Criminal Sanctions, Rehabilitation and Victim Support has a total of 5.256 staff members working in its prisons, including security, offices and rehabilitation.
To date in Catalonia, 221 smartphones and 21 tablets were distributed among the prisons and 30 smartphones and 7 tablets among juvenile justice educative centres for enabling video calls via whatsapp with families.
All tablets and smartphones are provided with a tripod and a pointer in order to meet the health safety requirements to prevent the spread.
To avoid a possible misuse of the smartphones by inmates these are exclusively managed by the prison staff who would set up the video call for every inmate so that the inmate does not have to touch the device.
• What prisoners are eligible for this phone service and how are prisoners selected for this service? All of the inmates who wish to communicate with their families are eligible.
• What security arrangements are in place? Every inmate has a list of phone numbers to which s/he can make regular phone calls. The phone numbers that are included in this list have previously undergone a security check by the prison. The phone number with which the whatsapp video call has to be made, must be one of the phone numbers of this list used for regular phone calls.
• What type of devices are used and how are they secured to prevent any abuse of the device i.e. Calls to unauthorised persons? Regular smartphones that are being only managed by prison staff who set the video call in motion for the inmate. During the video call, the inmate is not allowed to touch the smartphone to prevent any possible way to spread of the virus.
• Has the use of mobile phone devices been a success? Or have any challenges or difficulties arisen? In general, it can be said that it has been a success as it has allowed inmates to communicate with their families visually in times of lockdown. It has also allowed inmates whose families were living far away or abroad, to meet their relatives for the first time in a long time, and this has proven to have a very positive impact in the inmates in many respects. We are going to start a study with the aim of reviewing the current inmate telephone system; mainly, with the idea of changing to an IP telephony system.
• Did the use of a mobile device require any legislative changes i.e. Prison Rules, Criminal Justice Act? No
• Were calls and text messages logged by the prison authority, or just the mobile carrier? Video calls are also registered in our OMS.
• Was there a limit on the number of calls and duration? If yes, how was this achieved?
Since the start of the pandemic, the time of regular phone calls has been doubled from 10 phone calls of 8 minutes each to 20 phone calls 8 minutes each per person.
Video calls frequency and length have been managed like a regular family visit and the record has been kept in a similar way.
• Were international calls allowed, or just national calls? International calls are allowed via the regular phones. When inmates have no income, their phone calls, both national and international, are at the expense of the prison budget. When using mobile phones, video calls are made via whatsapp which allows for international calls as well.
• Was the mobile phone just a basic voice & text phone or were smart phones (iOS/Android) allowed? What functions are enabled/disabled on the phone devices (mobile data, apps etc.)?
• The distribution of smartphones and tablets among prisons and educative centres has been made in a very short time to meet the urgency caused by the pandemic preventing the families from visiting their relatives in prison. For now, only prison staff is allowed to manage the smartphones and set the video calls in motion for the inmates every time. Therefore, for now, no application nor function has been disabled or enabled. However, considering to introduce video calls in the long run for those whose families live too far away to visit, we are working on turning it into a system that better meets security standards.
A helpline has been set up through which prison social workers are providing support to and answering questions from families and friends of inmates.
After the preliminary preventative set of measures was implemented, on 14 March the Spanish government declared the state of alarm which amongst other measures, imposed movement restrictions and established new health safety measures for the whole of the population. In light of the new situation a more comprehensive set of measures was applied in Catalan prisons. New adjustments and improvements to the contingency plan are being made as often as needed.
Now, the Spanish government is implementing a phased approach to ease the lockdown which is applicable to all autonomous communities including Catalonia. It foresees 5 stages and at every stage a set of the restrictions imposed since 14 March (when the state of alarm was first declared) is lifted.
The transition throughout the stages is taking place unevenly across the country because it depends on how well a given health care administrative region (health services areas in which every autonomous community is divided into) scores on different aspects. The criteria that every health care region must meet in order to move on to the next stage have to do with the degree of preparedness of its hospitals for a new outbreak as well as the infection rates in that very region.
The lifting of measures in Catalan prisons and educative juvenile justice centres, will also be done by stages in accordance with the stage reached by the health care region where each prison is located. Nevertheless, depending on how the number of Covid-19 positive cases among inmates and staff evolves, health authorities might decide that a given prison cannot move on to the stage reached by its health care region. Currently, massive PCR testing is being conducted in prison staff and it will be conducted in inmates as well. In what follows only some of the relevant measures applicable to prisons on the 3 first stages are described.
Prisons in a health care region still on stage 0, the following activities will be resumed:
On stage 1 the following will be resumed:
On stage 2 the following will be resumed:
On stage 3 the following will be resumed:
*Videocalls will continue for inmates whose families cannot visit them in person.
Once completed the 3 stages and provided that all requirements are met, prisons will be able to move on to the “new normality” stage.
For any further questions regarding the procedures in the state of emergency taken by the Directorate General of Prison Services of Catalonia please contact the following:
Clara Casado Coronas
Directorate General of Prison Services of Catalonia
Supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union