Terrorism and Violence in Spanish Prisons: A Brief Glimpse into Prison Environment: Personal Experiences and Reflections

  • Luis Millana
Part of the Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications book series (ASTSA)


In recent years, Spanish prisons show a decline in prison population, with a parallel increase in aggressive behaviour. Serious or very serious assaults suffered between 2006 and 2010 numbered 725, while between 2011 and 2016 the exponential increase in assaults amounted to 2208. Coercion, verbal aggression in the form of threats and criticism, considered minor infractions, increased from 2160 in 2009 to 3035 in 2016. In prisons, there are different types of cell blocks where various intervention programmes are applied. These depend on repeat offenses, class of felony and even the prisoner’s dangerousness. In the least conflictive cell blocks, coexistence is easier, since the inmates view the correctional officer as a helper or an equal and not as someone who they must confront as if they were an enemy. This trust facilitates our work. On the contrary, in more problematic cell blocks, we find inmates who are more reluctant to follow the options presented by the institution and put into practice by the correctional officer. In these cases, the increased tension is palpable, and the best defence is the ability to work with disruptive behaviours through verbal communication, dialogue, and self-control. Understanding the situation can be complicated as inmates may form groups or closed systems in reaction to those who they believe to be their oppressors. This occurs with prisoners who belong to armed or criminal gangs, Latino gangs (maras), jihadist terrorist organisations or prisoners convicted of violent crimes. In order to do our job well when a conflict arises, we need to be emotionally detached and focus our attention on resolving the conflict. This does not always prove successful, especially when additional resources are required: the more violence, the less and more drastic the options available to resolve the conflict. In some cases, prisoners feel no pain nor suffer mental load during the conflict. In many cases, threats to our mental, or even physical, being occur on a daily basis. These individuals establish their own rules of coexistence, which they use to break down an established system with which they do not identify. But, at the same time, they know the laws well enough and use their tools and self-protection mechanisms, resulting in (mostly false) complaints. This aggressive behaviour, far from being impulsive, is motivated, purposive and aimed at achieving goals, namely the destruction of that which does not coincide with their purposes or thoughts. This situation forces prison officers to be on a permanent state of alert while prisoners attempt to wear them down to the point of apathy. I have had enough conversations in this hostile, threatening and complex environment to think that this violence we could call political, yet personal, carried out by lucid, yet threatening, people, who are rational, yet pitted, against the world and yourself, with morally justified, yet aversive, motives generates constant pressure and psychological permeability among prison officers. It produces fear and doubt that sometimes translates into a weakening of your own knowledge and actions.


Violence Jihadist movement Corrections officer Prison Treatment programmes Personal experiences 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions, Spanish Home MinistryMadridSpain
  2. 2.Nebrija UniversityMadridSpain

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