Catalan authorities grant level 3 status to political prisoners

It is an endorsement of the prison boards’ decision, which will be executed immediately

The Catalan government has decided to grant all nine political prisoners level 3 status. On Tuesday the Inmate Grading Service of Catalonia’s Justice Ministry announced that it is endorsing the reports of the various prison boards which unanimously proposed that Oriol Junqueras, Carme Forcadell, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Jordi Sànchez, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Jordi Cuixart and Dolors Bassa be bumped up to open prison status. The decision will have immediate effect and it means that the political prisoners will be allowed to sleep at home on weekends.

Last Sunday marked the 1,000th day since the first political prisoners were jailed in the case of the 2017 independence referendum and now they will be allowed to serve the rest of their sentence under the lowest level of supervision. Since February —with a break due to the covid-19 lockdown— the Catalan political prisoners have been allowed to pursue gainful employment or engage in voluntary work outside their facility, as well as look after a family member on weekdays thanks to Article 100.2 of the Prison Service Rules and Regulations. They main change from now on is that they will also be allowed to sleep at home at the weekend. In fact, so far only Sànchez, Cuixart and Forn have been allowed to do so because they have already served one quarter of their sentence and are entitled to leave. For the other prisoners being able to sleep at home will be a significant novelty. Furthermore, they now stand a chance of getting permission to spend weeknights in an open facility or a government-supervised flat and, if Article 86.4 is invoked, they may also be allowed to sleep at home on weekdays.

Spain’s General Prosecutor had announced that he would be lodging an appeal against the Catalan government’s decision if, indeed, it endorsed the proposal which the prison boards made on July 2. Catalonia’s Justice Ministry had up to two months to reach a decision, but the Director of the Prison Service, Amand Calderó, made it very clear that they wouldn’t wait that long. The court of penitentiary oversight will now be tasked with reviewing the Prosecutor’s appeal —earlier it ruled that the political prisoners were entitled to benefit from Article 100.2— but eventually it will be Court 2 of Madrid’s Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Manuel Marchena, that will have the last say on the matter.

Good conduct and family support outside

In a statement released on Tuesday, Catalonia’s Justice Ministry —led by Ester Capella— emphasised that all nine inmates had engaged in “activities that required reasoning, critical thinking and conflict resolution” while in prison, showing themselves to be “extremely cooperative” towards prison staff and the other inmates. None of the political prisoners have been disciplined and they have met all their judicial obligations. All in all, coupled with the family support they will receive outside, has prompted the Catalan authorities to endorse the proposal from the prison boards.

The Justice Ministry has also pointed out that Article 72.4 of Spain’s penitentiary law “does not allow inmates who are ready to be classed as level 3 to be held back at level 2”. The political prisoners will be granted leave at weekends with immediate effect, although they realise that the Supreme Court —which originally convicted them— will have the last word on the matter.

Initial status review

Level 3 was one of the options that was debated when the political prisoners were initially classed. In December the prison boards of Lledoners, Puig de les Basses and Mas d'Enric —Carme Forcadell was transferred to the Wad-Ras facility in Barcelona— recommended that all of them be classed as level 2 inmates, although the decision was not unanimous. In January the Justice Ministry confirmed the decision, which ruffled a few feathers. The lawyer that represents Turull, Rull and Sànchez, Jordi Pina, openly criticised the Justice Ministry, although neither he nor any of the other lawyers appealed against the decision.

Six months later, once their status has come up for review, they have been granted open prison status. The length of their sentence had no bearing on the matter, even though it did when they were initially classed. It is highly unusual for convicts serving more than nine years to be granted level three status.

30 per cent of all convicts are level 3 inmates

Most inmates are classed into level 2, although a significant number fall into category 3: 30 per cent, according to ministry figures. This is infrequent when an inmate still has to serve many years: only 56 (3 per cent) inmates placed into level 3 are still facing 8 or more years in jail. Among them are Junqueras, Romeva, Turull, Bassa, Forcadell and Rull. Nevertheless, having served a large portion of their sentence is not a must to receive level 3 benefits.
In contrast, it does matter when it comes to being granted prison leave. Sànchez, Cuixart and Forn are entitled to it, whereas Rull will soon be. The other political prisoners will need to wait until early 2021.