The ingenuity of some inmates seems to have no limits, especially when it comes to hiding objects whose possession is forbidden to them inside the prisons. The latest example was discovered on May 2 at the Picassent Penitentiary Center (Valencia), the largest prison in Spain, with about 2,100 inmates. During the search of a cell, prison officials located a small mobile phone in a sealed compartment inside one of the bottles that prisoners have with cleaning products, as seen in a video to which EL PAÍS has had access. Just a few days earlier, on April 21, workers at the Ocaña I prison (Toledo) had seized four sophisticatedly camouflaged mobile phones: three were hidden in deodorant containers.

In the case of the Picassent prison, the video shows a prison officer who, during a cell search, takes a plastic bottle that appears to contain only a green liquid inside. However, the prison worker begins to unscrew the lower part of the bottle until it comes off, revealing that, between it and the upper part, which also has liquid, there is a sealed compartment with a small terminal and its charger, which remains hidden from view by the bottle label. “This is our daily bread. They devise mechanisms to hide prohibited objects, and we try to discover it, ”says a prison official consulted.

Mobile phones seized on April 21 in the Ocaña I prison (Toledo) hidden in deodorant containers.

In the case of Ocaña, the photograph shows how three of the terminals were inside deodorant-type containers. roll on. In this intervention, a telephone was also found. smartphone, a battery and a charger with cable. Possession of mobile phones is considered a serious offense that carries sanctions for inmates found to be carrying them. These punishments range from the reduction of the hours of leaving the playground to the transfer to a harder module. In addition, the incident is reflected in the inmate’s prison file with the consequent effect on the granting, for example, of permits. In August last year, several prisoners at the Monterroso Penitentiary Center (Lugo) were sanctioned after a video recorded by one of them with a mobile phone was broadcast on social networks in which they were seen consuming drugs of unknown origin and showing off that they had other prohibited objects, such as a tattoo artist

Between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2021, Penitentiary Institutions have intervened 10,275 mobile phones of all kinds in prisons dependent on the Ministry of the Interior (the Catalan Generalitat and the Basque Government, the latter since last October, have transferred the management of existing centers in their territories).

The year that most were intervened was in 2019, just before the pandemic, with 2,585 terminals. A figure that represents an average of seven a day. Last year there were 2,261 phones. By prisons, that of Algeciras, with 690 terminals, and that of Alhaurín de la Torre (Málaga), with 688, are the ones in which the most have been located in these five years. In Picassent’s, where the mobile phone has now been found hidden inside the bottle of cleaner, between 2017 and 2021 437 were found (68 in the last year). And in Ocaña I there were 141 (52 during 2021).

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Small mobile phone, the size of a lighter, seized in a prison on an unspecified date.
Small mobile phone, the size of a lighter, seized in a prison on an unspecified date.

Most of the mobile phones that are seized are small in size: just over six centimeters in size and easy to hide in a shoe or in body cavities. They are offered on web pages for just over 20 euros. But there are also, in increasing numbers, with Internet access, known as smartphone, much more sought after among inmates. Many of them are brought into the prisons by family members during visits vis to vis (intimate) or by inmates who return from leave and who carry them hidden in the objects they carry —one has even been found in a tube of toothpaste— or in their body orifices. Some have also been found in the prison courtyards allegedly dropped from a drone, as happened in September 2018 at the Alhaurín de la Torre prison.

In the training courses that prison officers receive before starting to work in prison, they are trained precisely in the detection of prohibited objects inside the prisons. In these teachings, special emphasis is placed on the new systems used by prisoners or their relatives to introduce and hide them, sources from Penitentiary Institutions point out.

In addition, since 2008, the Ministry of the Interior has taken measures to prevent the use of mobile phones by inmates, especially after it was discovered that some famous prisoners at the time, such as Zakhar Kalashov, head of the Georgian mafia, and the Galician drug trafficker José Ramon Bravo Bugallo Site Miñanco, used these devices from their cells presumably to keep in touch with their organization. That year, Penitentiary Institutions began to install frequency inhibitors inside many of the prisons. Interior does not provide the number of prisons that currently have this system for security reasons, according to a parliamentary response last year to EH Bildu deputy Jon Iñarritu.

The exception of prisoners in semi-liberty

In April of last year, the General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions issued an internal order authorizing, for the first time, that part of the inmate population have certain previously prohibited objects in their cells, such as computers and mobile phones. The measure affects about 2,400 inmates who enjoy the so-called “residential” semi-liberty, that is, with the obligation to go to prison, most of them only to sleep from Monday to Thursday. The internal order framed the measure within a prison policy “oriented towards social insertion” and with the aim of favoring “community ties” of prisoners with the outside world. In this sense, it pointed out that, given the expansion in society of the use of new information and communication technologies, these must be present in the open prison environment “for labor, training and communication purposes” of semi-liberty prisoners. . For this reason, the Interior revised the catalog of prohibited objects that governs all inmates, in force since 2010, so that from now on it only affects prisoners in the ordinary regime and who, therefore, serve their sentences inside prisons. In parallel, it created a new catalog, this one of “objects authorized in an open environment”, including mobile phones, which since then has affected the Social Integration Centers (CIS) and the open sections of prisons, which is where prisoners serve their sentences. prisoners in third degree or semi-liberty.


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