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From the early hours of this Friday morning, prison officers in Catalonia set up barricades, some with fire, to block entrances and obstruct shift changes in Catalan prisons in protest aimed at the Catalan justice department after the murder of Núria, a staff member at the Mas d'Enric prison, in Catllar, near Tarragona. The protests have continued all day Friday, despite intervention by the Catalan minister of justice Gemma Ubasart, whose offer of talks, while refusing to resign, was rejected by prison officer union groups.  


Prison officials, on a war footing

The protests at the Catllar centre itself began on Friday morning, where a hundred workers blocked access with tyres and tree branches across the roads. In addition, they displayed two banners demanding justice, better security and more resources. They brought a bouquet of flowers and lit candles in memory of their murdered colleague. They also complained that there were more than 800 inmates at Catllar and thus the centre should be classed as a higher Category 1 and not a Category 2 prison.

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The prisons in the Barcelona and Tarragona areas, blockaded this Friday morning / Photo supplied 


Awaiting Catalan minister

Although the main protest was at the Tarragona prison, where officials told the Mossos d'Esquadra police that they would not allow access until they spoke with the Catalan justice minister, Gemma Ubasart, there were also blockades at the two prisons in La Roca, north-east of Barcelona (Quatre Camins and the youth prison centre), and also at the other prisons close to metropolitan Barcelona - Lledoners prison in the Bages, and Brians 1 and Brians 2 prisons, in Baix Llobregat county. At prisons in Lleida and Figueres there were pickets outside entrances. The main demand of the prison officers' unions and workers' organizations was for the minister Ubasart to resign, as well as the general director of prisons, Amand Calderó. A tense calm reigned outside the centres, with Mossos police postponing planned transfers to courts, and setting up a security operation outside the centres. 


Violent prisoner kills the cook of Mas d'Enric penetentiary centre

On Wednesday, an inmate at Mas d'Enric prison, Iulian, killed a cook. The prisoner was serving an eleven-year sentence for stabbing a woman to death in 2016, a prostitute that the man had been seeing for several months. In April 2016, the man brutally attacked her with a knife after an argument and ended up killing her by slitting her throat. The attack took place in the town of Valls.

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Protest outside Brians 1 and 2 prisons, in the Baix Llobregat county / Supplied

The victim of the attack at Mas d'Enric was a worker at the Centre for Reintegration Initiatives (CIRE) and died from the stab wounds caused by the prisoner. The inmate committed suicide after his crime. A Tarragona court has opened proceedings for the case, with the report from the Mossos still pending. As can report, the cook, Núria, a resident of La Pobla de Mafumet, had already warned that this prisoner was violent, but he was able to return to the kitchen.

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Image of the road block at the Lledoners prison, in Bages / Cedida

Minister's responses fails to satisfy officers as weekend begins  

The intervention of the two key justice department figures in the dispute, minister and prisons director, has failed to provide a solution on Friday evening. "The easiest thing would be to resign, but it would not be the most correct decision. The whole team continues because of our responsibility," said Catalan minister of justice, Gemma Ubasart, this afternoon in response to the demand of prison unions that she and prisons director Amand Calderó should resign, to put an end to the protests which have blocked access to the prisons. Ubasart "stretched out her hand" to the union representatives to return to the negotiation table with the department, where she recalled that agreements have been reached in the year and a half that she has been at the head of justice, and warned of the "extreme" situation now affecting prisons, saying that the protests "are not just traffic jams." 

Calderó detailed that in six of the nine Catalan prisons, inmates have not been able to leave their cells all day, which could cause problems for inmates and officials, although some staff had been relieved during the day on Friday, and food and medical needs are guaranteed. Sources close to the prisoners, quoted by the Europa Press agency, explained this Friday afternoon that there are inmates who have been "completely locked up since yesterday [Thursday] at dinner time", and that 'breakfast, lunch and medication had been brought to everyone in their cell."

However, prison officers' unions rejected the decisions of the ministers and as the weekend began were maintaining their protest, according to a joint statement by six union groups this Friday evening. "Today the Catalan justice minister missed a golden opportunity to resolve a conflict generated solely by the erratic decisions of the prison directorate", they asserted.