ETA members transferred to Basque prisons, which will continue to increase, have depended on the Basque administration since October after the central government has transferred the management of the prisons to it, which is set out in the Gernika Statute. The Basque Government chaired by Iñigo Urkullu (PNV) has announced that it will promote restorative justice, semi-release of prisoners without distinction and reintegration without changing the legislation. Some associations of victims of terrorism are suspicious and the PP and Vox accuse them of proposing a prison model “tailored to ETA.”
The transfer of ETA prisoners to Basque prisons —Basauri, Zaballa and Martutene— has been a fundamental piece in the prison policy of the Pedro Sánchez Government, demanded by a large majority of the Basque Parliament and the parties since the end of terrorism. A request that has come for years and that has not been raised by Bildu to support the Executive Budgets, as PP and Vox falsely accuse. In 2021 143 prisoners have approached, 49% of the 293 that Sánchez has authorized since his arrival in La Moncloa in 2018. Of them, 70 have been to Basque prisons and nine to Navarre.
The transfers will continue in 2022, coordinated between the Ministry of the Interior and the Basque Government, after the favorable report of the Treatment Board of the prison. And they require the consent of the Basque penitentiary institutions, who confirm that they will follow the criteria of the central government: “The dispersal penitentiary policy makes no sense when ETA has been without activity for ten years. ETA prisoners will join as one more prisoner. The criterion for their transfer to Basque prisons is serving the sentence close to their place of residence because it facilitates their reintegration ”.
The Basque Government disagrees with some associations of victims of terrorism that introduce other requirements, such as repentance of the convicted person, for transfers. It invokes article 12 of the Penitentiary Law and international recommendations that link the inmate’s approach to his place of roots with his reintegration. The primacy of arraigo over other conditions was reflected in the transfer to Basque prisons on December 30 of Arkaitz Goikoetxea, an ETA man convicted of participating in a plan to assassinate the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, when he was a magistrate of the National Court .
Regarding the attacks of the PP and Vox on the approaches of ETA prisoners, it should be remembered that in the first legislature of José María Aznar as president (1996-2000) he ordered to bring almost 200 to Basque and nearby prisons when his Government spoke with ETA. Aznar appealed to “generosity” and “open spirit.” And he invoked: “If we want peace, let’s make peace.”
More blisters have raised in the PP and Vox the decision of the Basque Government to promote the semi-freedom of prisoners, whether common or ETA, to favor their reintegration. In the 100 days that the Basque Government has been managing the prisons, there has been no progression from second to third degree of ETA members that would allow them to serve their sentence in semi-release. “There are those who compare it to release from prison or the granting of third degrees for free. Nothing is further from reality. The semi-release regime is a more open control system, but just as exclusive as internment ”, Basque prison sources reply to the PP and Vox.
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The criteria of the Basque penitentiary institution for inmates who want to change their grade are in accordance with those established by the Central Administration and penitentiary law in Article 72: “They will follow the guidelines set out in their individualized treatment program, participate in activities. It is important to know how they view the crime they have committed and what their attitude is towards the victim, the damage caused and their willingness to repair it ”.
Regarding the requirement of collaboration with the courts, the Basque Government interprets that denunciation is excluded. Judge Jaime Tapia, advisor on prison policy to the Basque Executive, specifies: “The right to know the truth is very important. But there is a constitutional right not to testify against yourself. And any manifestation of someone who knows the crime can be contrary to their interests and have consequences. With Spanish law it is very difficult to demand denunciations from oneself or from another person ”.
The Basque administration will encourage requests for semi-release, but it is the Treatment Boards of the prison center that formulate it. Finally, the judges of penitentiary surveillance of the National Court decide. Sare complains that the Prosecutor’s Office and judges reject numerous proposals from the Treatment Boards. It is one of the main demands that he will wield in the demonstrations called for this Saturday. The organization also considers that a third of ETA prisoners had to access the third degree for having served three-quarters of their sentence. In this regard, the Basque Government points out: “It is not for us to assess the decisions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office or the prison surveillance judge, but to accept their decisions and apply them if necessary.”
The ins and outs of the restorative justice process
The Basque Executive is explaining its model to the victims. “Working with the prisoners should not be understood as an injury to the victims. A principle of our model is the recognition of the victims and the defense of their rights; the self-criticism and the responsibility of the perpetrators for the political and ethical unreason and the exploration of the restorative path ”.
Precisely, victims play a key role in restorative justice, in initiatives such as encounters between victims and perpetrators, initiated with the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and suspended by that of Mariano Rajoy. The current government has relaunched them and 20 ETA prisoners have committed themselves. The Basque Executive admits that in Basque prisons “there are prisoners, not only from ETA, who have asked us to participate.” “It will be beneficial to the victim. Also for the victimizer and society. Discretion is essential for its success ”. The promoters of restorative justice know that there is still a hard current in the ETA environment, critical of reintegration, around 30%.
The experts of the Basque Government assure that “the indexes of reintegration guarantee the semi-freedom and restorative justice. It has been shown in the Nordic countries where the average semi-freedom is around 40%. In Spain, it stands at 25%. We aspire to 40% gradually ”.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.