Spain Criminal Justice

Spain, one of the oldest and most successful countries in the world. One of the biggest countries in all of Europe, and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. The history of Spain can be traced back hundreds of years when monarchs ruled the country.

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Of course, over time many things have changed. The economy, politics, tourism, etc. But, one thing that obviously changed over time is there criminal justice system. How it has developed from the past to now is very interesting. So, how does Spain’s modern day criminal justice system compare to the rest of the world? Well, by looking at the current day criminal Justice systems that question can be answered. By looking at various factors like major crimes that occur in Spain, the prison population, and the drug issues and policy. We can get a grasp on how good or bad the modern day criminal justice system in Spain really is.

Overview of Spain Criminal Justice System

To understand the criminal justice system in Spain, it is good to start with their legal system. The country of Spain is a parliamentary monarchy (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). Meaning that a monarch is the head of the state but does not really run the state. In Spain’s case the head monarch is King Felipe VI. While the person who actually runs the country is Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). Spain itself is ran by three branches of government.; legislative, judicial, and executive. (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). These people make and follow all the laws that is in “The Spanish Constitution of 1978: (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). When it comes to the courts throughout the country, there is many. It is separated nationally and locally, on the local side there is magistrate courts, criminal investigation courts, youth courts etc. (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). On the national side there is the Supreme court, the national court, and central criminal investigation courts (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). Courts in Spain have a judge, a prosecutor and defendant and a jury for trials. When it comes to criminal law in Spain the burden of proof is “dubio pro reo”, which means where doubt remains (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). If a defendant is found guilty they can face penalties like imprisonment, fines, community service etc. (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018). But, until the jury finds a defense guilty, this is important to note. In Spain, just like in the USA, defendants are innocent until proven guilty (Tapia & Del Campo, 2018).

Before we can even reach the courts, people must first get in trouble with the law enforcement officials in Spain. There are many different law enforcement agencies in Spain also. (Europol, 2018). There are the regular municipal police that are basic street officers. Then there is the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia or basically the national police (Europol, 2018). They are in charge with everything on a national level, which includes immigration issues, national drug related issues etc. (Europol, 2018). Another branch for law enforcement in Spain is the “Direccion Adjunta de Vigilancia Aduanera” or in English the Customs Service Directorate (Europol, 2018). Their job is control all the smuggling crimes, they also handle “custom and fiscal control” (Europol, 2018). Finally, there is the “Cuerpo de la Guardia Civil” or the Civil Guard (Europol, 2018). They are basically a para military type law enforcement agency. They handle the more major crimes like terrorism, transporting dangerous criminals etc. (Europol, 2018). But, to understand more of what law enforcement officials in Spain go through, we need to peel it back more and see the major crimes that happen in Spain.

Major Types of Crimes in Spain

Even though Spain has a lot of law enforcement and is the second highest tourist attraction spot (OSAC, 2017). They have one of the lowest crime rates throughout Europe (OSAC, 2017). According to the United States department of travel, Spain is a level 2 threat country out of 5. The main reason it is a level 2 is based off terrorism threats that take place which will be talked about in a bit (OSAC, 2017). For a small period of time it was not like this, around a decade ago, crimes in Spain increased nationwide after the 90s after many sweeping changes in the economy, social changes etc. (Garcia-españa, Diez-ripolles, Perez, Benitez, & Cerezo, 2010). But, current day Spain is now very safe. Back to probably the biggest threat in Spain, the terrorist threats (OSAC, 2017). According to OSAC, Spain has had a level 4 out of 5 terrorism alerts for the past few years (OSAC, 2017). Through the past few years they have had to arrest hundreds of terrorists throughout the country (OSAC, 2017). Hopefully as time goes on terrorism can be controlled in Spain and even in the world.

Even though Spain is thought to be safe, one crime that seems to plague the country is sex trafficking. According to a New York Times article that was studied in class, in 2010 400,000 plus women where prostitutes and almost all of them where a victim of human trafficking (Daley, 2012). Spain sadly faces the problem that many countries around the world face. They are scared to set any laws against prostitution because they already know that it will happen regardless (Daley, 2012). What is even worse is the fact that yes, Spain does have legal prostitution. But, the human trafficking part is illegal. The fact that they also let it slide because it brings money into a Spanish economy that is not doing good at all. So, most of the time Spain tends to turn the blind eye (Daley, 2012). Human trafficking does not look like it is slowing down in Spain at all. As the tourism increases, the need for the sex business increases (Daley, 2012).

Besides terrorism and sex trafficking, the overall crime in Spain decreased from 2016 to 2017 (OSAC, 2017). Small misdemeanor crimes had a 2% decrease (OSAC, 2017). Thefts and armed robbery also has a 2% decrease (OSAC, 2017). But, just because Spain overall is safe that does not mean that every crime across the board went down. Homicides went up around 7% and Residential burglary went up 5% (OSAC, 2017). When it comes to regular tourist, they are most affected by scams and small theft on the streets (OSAC, 2017). Spain does a good job at keeping their country in good condition when it comes to crime. This is a reason why many tourists come to Spain. These numbers are trending downward and compared to other countries in Europe. They are doing a good job with crime.

Spain’s Penitentiary System

The rules and laws that the Spanish prison come from the constitution for Spain (Ocaña, 2013). Prisons in Spain tend to concentrate on re-education the detainees, so they can be come back into society and be law abiding citizens (Ocaña, 2013). This is a complete opposite of how the United Kingdom and the USA treat their prisoners, those countries focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation (Larsen & Smandych, 2008). Back to Spain, the country has around 68 prisons (Ocaña, 2013). To break down the Spanish prison system more; there is four different types of prison degrees. There is the first degree which is a closed regime; second degree which is less strict, and prisoners start to get more benefits. The third degree is even less strict where the punishment might just be sleeping in jail only. The final degree is just regular probation (Ocaña, 2013). The prison system of Spain is made up of two different administrations. For all the different types of Spain autonomous communities they follow the “General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions” (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). The next one is based on the autonomous community Catalonia. This administration is called “The General Directorate of Penal Services” (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). The main difference between both is they are supervised by two different departments.

When it comes to the prison population in Spain, we can see that through years 2010 to 2010, the population was increasing, peaking at around 77 thousand in 2010 (World Prison Breif , 2016). Funny enough, while Spain is typically safe, they have one of the highest rate of incarceration (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). But, 2010 on the prison population went down by around 16,000 people (World Prison Breif , 2016). The biggest penalty in Spain is going to jail for life as there is no more death penalty in Spain (World Prison Breif , 2016). Out of all the people that are in prison in Spain, about 8% of them are women who committed crimes (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). Shockingly, almost 40% of the prison population in Spain is foreigners (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). Most of these foreigners come into Spain to smuggle drugs into the country, and most of them are also African and other Spanish countries (Pascual & Aranda, 2015). As the years go by the Spanish prison population will be decreasing more, helping these the inmates get back into a normal life. Hopefully this works as an example to other countries to help rehabilitate the prisoners.

Drugs in Spain

Some of the biggest drugs used in Spain are marijuana and cocaine (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2018). These are the drugs that mainly used by adults and teenagers, and some elderly. But, just like the crime rate, drug use has decreased (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2018). The age range that this study was people from 15-34. From this study from the EMCDDA, around 17 percent of these people smoked marijuana, and most of those people are male. 3 percent of that population uses cocaine and again most of those people are male (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2018). Speaking on cocaine, this drug leads to the most people in the country looking for treatment. Cocaine is also known as “Europe’s cocaine gateway” (Carretero, 2018). Reason being is that there is an increase in the smuggling of cocaine in Spain (Carretero, 2018). Lastly, what is on the rise in Spain is over the counter drugs like sleeping pills, sedatives, and tranquilizers (Carretero, 2018). So, while drug use is decreasing, Spain might still consider drug use a problem.

With all that being said, it is time to break down some of the drug laws that Spain has for drug offenders. Possession of drugs in the public can lead to major fines to the extent of 30,000 Euros, which is about 35,000 US dollars (EMCDDA, 2018). Spain goes easy on punishment with minors and possession. If they look for help like rehab or counseling then their fine for possession of drugs will be erased (EMCDDA, 2018). Spain, funny enough does not put anyone in jail for possession of drugs. What will land people in jail depends on how harmful the drug can be for a person (EMCDDA, 2018). For example, selling drugs to children and or selling a huge amount of certain dangerous drugs can land someone in jail (EMCDDA, 2018). Small offenses are around 5 years jail time while huge drug crimes are 20 plus years (EMCDDA, 2018) plus fines and confiscation of any profit they might have made when they sold drugs (EMCDDA, 2018). Spain compared to other countries around the world is less strict then countries like the USA, hopefully in the future they can solve some of the drug problems that they have.


Spain’s criminal justice system is interesting. Now that we know about the major crimes that occur, the penitentiary system, and the drug policy. We can understand another countries way of doing things. Which in turn can help our home country. We can start to think “If that works for them, then it might work for us”. When looking at the research for Spain, we see that they been doing things right since the crime rate has been low, and the major problems that hurt the country are getting better. Many people should look too Spain as leaders of a good criminal justice system. While, they are not alone, the EU is a big help for them, Spain still should be an example or just a reference point on how to improve criminal justice systems around the world.

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