Wednesday, July 6

Three suicides in two weeks put Catalan prisons on alert

Tycoon John McAfee took his life in prison on June 23. In two weeks there have been two other suicides in Catalan prisons of less media inmates: Mohamed died after setting fire to his cell ten days ago, and Ana hung herself from her isolation cell this Sunday. This escalation has put the prisons and the Generalitat on alert, which has committed itself to improving the treatment and detection of mental health problems among the prison population.

The suicide rate in Catalan prisons is eleven times higher among prisoners in solitary confinement

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In Ana’s case, her sentence was not long – 27 months – but she was in isolation, a regime that punishes the bad behavior of prisoners, who can spend more than 21 hours a day locked up and without company. Its effects on the mental health of inmates are devastating, especially considering the complex life trajectories of a large part of the prison population. Ana had assaulted her grandmother and her parents had also been in prison. It was not part of the prison suicide prevention program. McAfee’s defense has been ensuring that the inmate “did not show external signs” of wanting to kill himself.

The Minister of Justice, Lourdes Ciuró, has assessed this Monday that “perhaps” Ana should not have been locked up in prison but undergo psychiatric treatment. In his first parliamentary appearance in the legislature, Ciuró has recognized that prison is not an exception to the increase in problems related to the mental health of society, which the pandemic has increased, and has advocated trying to find solutions together with the Ministry of health. Until last May, according to official statistics, three inmates had committed suicide in Catalan prisons after the record number of 11 suicides was reached last year. In the previous five years the figure had moved between seven and eight per year.

Prison unions and organizations in defense of human rights agree that more professionals and facilities are needed. “If the Government detects that there is a problem, it has to put money: we have lost 500 troops in recent years and more specific health personnel are needed to treat mental health problems,” says Xavier Martínez, from UGT Presons. “We can talk about the protocols and suicide prevention programs, but the reality is that without more professionals it is not possible to do a good follow-up of the inmates”, summarizes the prison lawyer Mireia Salazar, from the Irídia center.

Martínez also emphasizes the complexity of the women’s department of the Brians 1 prison, the center where Ana was serving a sentence. In this prison, Martínez says, inmates of very different profiles coexist, with very varied sentences, with good and bad behavior and who face rehabilitation in a very diverse way, which hinders the security and management of the department. For this reason, the union representative demands that there be no more delays in the construction of the new women’s prison in the Barcelona Free Zone, a project that accumulates years of delay and is now scheduled for 2027.

“There are more and more mental health problems and fewer resources, specific places enabled to correctly locate the hundreds of inmates who suffer from them, and we find that spaces have to be shared, which leads to serious security problems,” he denounces Martinez. The public statistics of the Ministry of Justice show how many inmates have AIDS, hepatitis or tuberculosis, but do not detail mental health problems.

For his part, Salazar asks to focus on the closed regime. “The isolation generates serious physical and mental consequences, it is necessary to leave it behind because it is obsolete. The problem is in the mechanism itself, any change will hardly be enough and the prison isolation must be ended,” he reasons. In its latest report on Catalan prisons, the Council of Europe asked the Generalitat to take “additional steps” in relation to solitary confinement “to promote a more individualized regime and to help inmates reintegrate into the conventional prison population.”

In the absence of budget specifics, Ciuró has advanced that the intention of his department is to “do more” and review the suicide prevention program. Yes, the councilor has advanced that will promote a specific execution plan for the young prison population and for women prisoners in the face of the “very different reality” that they live with respect to male inmates. “All lives have equal value, whether they are known or not,” concluded the minister.