The Director General of Penitentiary Institutions, Ángel Luis Ortiz, has announced that prison perimeter security and escort duties will once again become the responsibility of the National Security Forces.
He explained that the intention of the current Executive is to phase out contracts with private companies, covering the external security posts with public sector employees as the Police and Civil Guard are expanded.
Ortiz made the announcement yesterday when appearing before the Internal Committee of Congress to explain his department’s 2019 budget of 1.2 billion euros, an increase of 3% from 2018.
According to complaints by prison workers’ unions in Confilegal, the Executive of Mariano Rajoy spent 175 million on privatising external security in prisons.
They underlined that the measure “was sold with the excuse of providing armed escorts in the Basque Country”, but that “in practice only 10% of the guards in these companies were armed guards”, and that now “there are practically no armed escorts in the companies that won the tenders”.
According to the report, the company winning the most tenders is OMBUDS.
What has privatisation contributed to external security management? Juan Fernández, spokesperson of the Asociación Unificada de Guardias Civiles (Civil Guard Association, AUGC), states that “it has meant private security guards, Civil Guards and police performing the same tasks”.
The Director of Penitentiary Institutions also took the opportunity of the previous debate over raising police and civil guard salaries to wonder ironically about the lack of funds allocated to prison officers.
“Between the father and the mother, you have left prison officers like orphans. You didn’t take the opportunity to bring all Ministry employees to the same level”, he complained.
Ortiz said that the previous Executive left prison officers “orphans” in their salary level agreements, and he has already held several meetings with the unions on the subject.
According to his report, it was agreed to create four work groups to deal with attacks against prison officers (223 incidents in 2018), training, reforming classifications, and other matters.
He mentioned that since 2008 there are 13,000 fewer inmates in the prisons, in such a way that the ratio has gone from one guard per 5.67 prisoners to one per 4.39. He recognised that there are still 3,000 unfilled prison officer posts, and reported that 956 will be filled in a few months.
The unions say that there is a shortfall of over 3,400 posts lost in recent years, and that extraordinary recruitment efforts are needed to cover them, and “thus increase security in prisons and remedy the increasing attacks on prison officers”.
In response to questions from the PP on the transfer of prison competencies in the Basque Country, which both the PP and Ciudadanos regard as a “payment” by the Government of Pedro Sánchez for the support of the PNV and Bildu in the no-confidence motion, Ángel Luis Ortiz dismissed the matter, saying it was not up to him.
“The political decision is at the highest level and not up to me”, he answered.
“As soon as I receive the order, I will start working on it. Until I receive it, I will be in charge of the three prisons of the Basque Country”, he added.
The Government and the Basque Executive have set a calendar for the transfer of competencies in compliance with the Statute of Gernika, which includes powers over prisons.
As well as ceding responsibility for prisons to the Basque Country, something “long demanded by the PNV and also by ETA”, the opposition reproached the Ministry of the Interior for its “lies” on relocating prisoners “with violent crimes” or the “photo of shame”, in the words of PP member of parliament Marimar Blanco, taken on Christmas Eve for the front page of a newspaper showing the leader of the PSE, Idioia Mendia, and the “terrorist Otegi“.
During the hearing, Podemos called into question the foreigner detention centres (CIEs) and the replacement of concertina wire on the fences around Ceuta and Melilla, as well as the 12 million euros allocated to the Campo de Gibraltar assistance plan, with a reminder that the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said in November that the amount would be 21 million.
In turn, the Secretary of State for Security, Ana Botella Gómez, defended the Executive’s commitment to Campo de Gibraltar, with such information as that 413 more civil servants, 185 more police officers and 228 more civil guards have been sent to the area to tackle money laundering and crime connected to drug trafficking.
Another of the explanations most demanded by the opposition had to do with the audit agreed with the National Police union and the Civil Guard associations in relation to the salary level agreement approved by the previous Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido.
Ana Botella Gómez announced that this audit will end in February, and will then report whether the amounts allocated to raise salaries from 2018 to 2019 are correct.
Ciudadanos and the PP asked Botella if the police and civil guards will receive in their pay packets, in January 2019, the first amount of the total 250 million agreed for the current year.
“They will be paid from 1 January”, the State Secretary said, with the caveat that the payment may be delayed if the 2019 Budget is not approved.
THE DEMANDS OF PRISON OFFICERS
As well as a salary increase, prison officers are demanding a solution to the shortage of personnel, which “adds to the problem of an ageing workforce”, and the “lack of appropriate protection equipment”, and to be considered agents of the authority.
They also warned that there is an average of “one attack per day” against prison officers in Spain resulting in injury. The collective has been calling attention to this situation since 2017 and “no action has been taken” to deal with the problem, according to the complaint to Confilegal by Francisco Llamazares, President of the Asociación Profesional de Funcionarios de Prisiones (Prison Officers Association, APFP).
“One day something bad will happen”, he warned.
According to the unions, from 2011 to 2017 there were 2,513 attacks on prison officers by inmates. These figures do not include data from Catalonia, which has transferred competencies, where also “an attack takes place every day and a half”.
The APFP criticised the Government for spending “nearly 56.5 million in the old pesetas (373,000 euros) on opening 25 swimming pools for the use of inmates and 29 million pesetas (173,000) on canapés and drinks for La Merced”, but for prison officers and workers, who have been calling for higher wages and more staff for over a year, “there is no money”.