Irish Penal Reform Trust

A Values Based Prison System: Spanish Delegate Visits Wheatfield Prison

3rd April 2012

As part of a wider campaign to generate solutions to current social and economic problems in Ireland, Change Nation, an Ashoka initiative,hosted a visit by Spanish entrepreneur, Faustino Garcia Zapico on his idea of Units of Therapy and Education (UTE) and how this programme could be successfully applied in the Irish prison context. As part of his visit to Ireland, IPRT helped to organise a visit for Faustino to Wheatfield Prison which was facilitated by the Irish Prison Service, where he presented on UTE’s work in Spain and exchanged information with Irish colleagues on the parallels with incentivised regimes initiatives here.

UTE was established in 1992 where its emphasis was on addressing the needs of drug-using inmates. Since then UTE has expanded its remit to tackling the specific needs of each inmate, with the programme being implemented across numerous Spanish prisons. The purpose of UTE is to transform the physical environment and create a positive space for everyone in the prison system. Prison officers and inmates work with therapeutic professionals in order to construct and co-manage an environment that helps establish goals.

The central component of Faustino’s strategy is the relationship between the prison officer and the inmate. While the prison officer is only expected to maintain order in the traditional prison system, UTE prison officers are essentially educators that help each inmate develop and achieve an individualised plan. The core element is on teaching the inmate positive societal values such as empathy and trust. Daily meetings occur between 15 inmates and 2 prison officers. Each inmate speaks about their past, present and their aspirations for the future. During these meetings, confrontations are made to address any specific obstacles a prisoner may need to overcome such as addressing violent behaviour. Furthermore, inmates share a cell where one inmate (the individual that has progressed/rehabilitated) is responsible for restraining the other inmate’s misconduct. 

There is an internalization process where if the family of the individual is regarded as a positive impact on the individual, the inmate stays at home while attending UTE. If the family influence is negative, the inmate cuts off all contact. Non-governmental organisations oversee that each inmate successfully integrates into society upon release. 

According to research from the Psychology Dept of the University of Oviedo Spain, the UTE displays a remarkable reduction in re-offending for those who participate in the programme from 65% to 26%. Furthermore, absence leave for UTE prison officers is currently 0%.

Attendees for the visit to Wheatfield Prison included the Spanish delegate, representatives from Ashoka, staff from the Irish Prison Service, the Prison Officers Association, and the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

As a result of the visit, commitments to this project include the following:

  • Kieran McGowan of Business in the Community stated that “it should be considered sending a group to Faustino’s prison in order to set up a pilot in Ireland.
  • Dr. Mary Redmond will facilitate links with the Irish Prison Officers Association with the objective of sending a number of prison officers to Villabona Prison in Spain.
  • Former governor John Lonergan has also committed to arranging a visit to Villabona prison.   

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Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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