The blockade of prisons, a stressful factor for the mental health of prisoners

The blockade of prisons, a stressful factor for the mental health of prisoners

The murder of a cook in prison Mas d’Enric by a prisoner who later committed suicide, generated a wave of protests from prison officials, who blocked several prisons for days. That has already happened, but less has been said about the consequences for the health of the inmates. Relatives and entities denounce that this type of blockades directly affect the mental health of a group that already suffers from mental problems seven times higher than the average population.

“A prisoner diagnosed with schizophrenia had an epileptic attack because he was given his medication late. He rang the bell for the official to help him. No one came. He had to endure the attack alone, at risk to his life, in Brians I” explains Gracia Amo, who is the spokesperson for the association of relatives of prisoners in Catalonia.

The prisoners get nervous and the officials get in a bad mood, and things happen that no one wants to happen.

Grace Master

Spokesperson for the association of families of prisoners

It is just one example of an experience resulting from the decision of civil servants’ unions to prevent entry and exit from prisons. This affected the daily routine of a group that already suffers levels of stress and mental problems much higher than average. “The prisoners get nervous and the officials get in a bad mood, and things happen that no one wants to happen, like fights or other stories,” Amo describes.

A removed situation is a breeding ground for inmates who already feel like conflict

Aidà Almirall

Penitentiary mediator in Quatre Camins

Aidà Almirall, penitentiary mediator in the penitentiary center Four Caminscould not do his job during those days of blockade and picketing and received information from the interior about how it was affecting the prisoners: “Those who could enter were noticing a growing tension, a removed situation like this is a breeding ground for the inmates who They already feel like conflict; and I suffered for those who are on a good path and for whom a situation like this can make them make a change because they think ‘what’s my fault for this’.”

Stop recovery

The social entities issued a statement demanding that the officials’ protest not be done at the expense of basic fundamental rights. Núria Iturbepsychologist and coordinator of the ECAS penitentiary and criminal enforcement commission, describes very clearly what it means to lose the ability to do activities and outings in prison: “When routines stop due to Covid or the recent strike, we eliminate protective factors and stressors intensify.. It is not that the mental health of people who have some disorder worsens, or causes others to be generated, but that some people who are doing a favorable process, it stops. “We not only caused new problems but eliminated factors that allowed positive evolution.”

Time is measured differently

What consequences does all this have? Iturbe talks, among other issues, about irritability. “It may happen that they tend to isolate themselves, or that they have more difficulty managing their relationships with others because anxiety makes us more alert and nervous.

We not only cause new problems but we eliminate factors that allowed positive evolution

Nuria Iturbe


And for those who consider that the protests and the blockade lasted a few days and it is not that big of a deal, this psychologist specialized in prisons remembers that “in prison time is lived differently, the covid experience was revealing. At your home you could have certain autonomy despite not being able to leave, but in a prison this does not exist. In addition, there is the uncertainty of how long the blockade will last.

Rains, it pours

Talking about mental health in prisons is talking about a pending issue. The fact that the prisoners were unable to go out or have activities only made it rain. The entities and relatives denounce a chronic insufficiency. First of all, because many cases are not diagnosed. And those that are detected are not treated appropriately. There are, according to family members, visits from psychologists… every six months. And closed psychiatric units. “In October the staff was increased by 119 people, but of these, only 19 were psychologists, for nine prisons, when there are hundreds of people in the centers,” complains the spokesperson for the families.

Iturbe reminds those who believe that prisoners should not be treated in the same way, that we are facing centers whose function is social reintegration, which is why the services offered in prisons seek these objectives and avoid punishment for punishment’s sake. . And that mental health is one of the rights to be addressed. “There is a seven-fold higher proportion of cases in relation to the general population, it is a fact to take into account, which means there is a concentration of prisoners with this problem, often accompanied by drug consumption, so we are facing a dual pathology, and if we add that for people with mental health problems, isolation is a stressful factor, such as separation from family, lack of privacy and the feeling of constant alert,” describes Iturbe.

Response to “fuck them”

Yes, family members and NGOs know that the social perception regarding prisoners is something like “screw them, they have a pool and everything.” They respond with a double reflection: first, that human rights cannot be divided into pieces, because prison is a deprivation of freedom, not a deprivation of the rest of the rights. And second, in the mouth of Gracia Amo: “Lock yourself in jail for 15 days, you will see how you will enjoy the pool, yoga and everything… Prison is very hard, whoever speaks disparagingly demonstrates a very great lack of sensitivity because there are very beautiful people in prison. “My son died there, like the cook at Mas d’Enric, and all lives are worth the same.”

Almirall calls for joint reflection between officials, mediators and inmates, with the administration, to prevent such serious incidents from being repeated. “It has to be incorporated into both views: we need measures to contain or repress certain attitudes, but at the same time we must ensure the rights of inmates; They are an endemic tension and balance.

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