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Prison treatment boards have ruled out allowing the Catalan pro-independence political prisoners to spend the coronavirus lockdown in confinement at home, rather than in prison.

The decision comes after the Catalan government's justice ministry asked for an assessment on the option of releasing prisoners to their homes and thus reducing the prison populations during the confinement period. And it also follows the Supreme Court's own warning on the matter, telling officials clearly that letting the convicted Catalan politicians be in home confinement could be a crime of abuse of public office. In fact, Spain's high court went as far as asking to be informed which specific prison officials made the decisions on the matter.

The treatment boards have, however, approved that 15 inmates in the same category as the jailed pro-independence leaders are to be allowed to spend the coronavirus confinement in their own homes during the emergency. These 15 inmates, like the nine political prisoners, are serving a standard second-level security regime, while also having permission to leave the penitentiary on weekdays to work in a job (under prison regulations article 100.2). The 15 who have been granted this right constitute 15% of all prisoners in these circumstances.

This is the first time that the Catalan government's prisons have proposed such a measure, in accordance with a non-restrictive interpretation of the prison  regulations. It is unprecedented, but the justification given is the current public health crisis.

Of the fifteen who have been allowed to go home, four are serving sentences at the Wad Ras women's prison in the city of Barcelona and they are already home. The remaining 11 are inmates at the Quatre Camins prison at La Roca, near Barcelona. As an unprecedented initiative, the Quatre Camins treatment board is to pass the decision on to the prisons court for final approval without immediately executing it, as they have the right to. The rest of the prisons have ruled out all the cases they have evaluated, including the boards at the three prisons where the political prisoners are serving their sentences: Lledoners, Puig de les Basses and El Catllar.

The prisons court is to notify the public prosecutors so that they can take a position on the matter. Then it will decide whether to ratify or reject the proposal by the prison boards. Appeals to a higher court are also possible.

To minimize the prison population

The goal set by the Catalan justice ministry on the matter is to minimize the prison population to reduce the risk of contagion in prisons. This initiative of the Catalan government has also been urged by the United Nations and the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

On Tuesday, the justice ministry asked the penitentiary authorities to study, on a case-by-case basis, the possibility of home confinement for prisoners with second-level prison regimes that had been made more flexible under the article 100.2 work provisions, which bring it closer to the status of an open prison (third level) regime. The treatment boards are composed of more than 10 professionals, including jurists, psychologists, social workers, educators, doctors and teachers. To make their decisions, these teams study and evaluate the reports produced by the prison module teams that are in daily contact with the inmates.

69% of those in open regimes are at home

The justice ministry has been working to minimize the jail populations and, thus, the risk of contagion inside prisons, since the beginning of the crisis. Prior to the health emergency, there were 325 inmates in Catalonia who slept at home daily, 19% of the 1,700 deprived of liberty and classified into a third level, open regime. Since March 13, this has been applied to 848 more prisoners, so a total of 1,174 low-level security prisoners in Catalonia are spending the lockdown in their homes - 69% of all the prisoners in this category in Catalan prisons.