Congress Against Tougher Measures

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Spanish Congress votes against tougher imprisonment measures in wake of child murder
Opposition parties want to repeal reviewable permanent prison, but killing of young boy increases popular support for this punishment

Spanish Congress on Thursday voted against toughening up “reviewable permanent prison,” a punishment awarded by the courts to perpetrators of egregious crimes.

The amendments were being proposed by the governing Popular Party (PP), which wanted to extend the concept to more types of crimes, and also by Ciudadanos, which wanted to toughen eligibility conditions for parole, particularly for recidivists.

In a 178-to-167 vote, the Socialist Party (PSOE), Unidos Podemos, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) rejected the amendments, which they described as opportunistic demagoguery. The Canaries Coalition abstained.

The vote comes after the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) introduced a bill to repeal reviewable permanent prison altogether, a move that is supported by leftist and nationalist groups in Congress. Now, the governing board of the lower house will decide whether to offer more time for amendments.

The concept of reviewable permanent prison was encoded into law in March 2015 by the PP government while it still enjoyed an absolute majority in parliament. It met with opposition from other parties, which considered it a covert form of life imprisonment.

Gabriel Cruz case
The Thursday debate – the second to take place on a subject that has proved highly divisive – came just four days after the body of eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz was located in southern Spain following a 12-day search operation.

The case has galvanized public opinion, with many people asking for the maximum penalty to be handed down to the self-confessed killer of the child, Ana Julia Quezada. The congressional debate had already been scheduled before this case emerged, and some critics say that it should have been postponed until public outrage over the murder has subsided.

Under the terms of reviewable permanent prison, people convicted of terrorism, political assassination, genocide and certain types of murder have to serve a minimum number of years before their case may come up for review.

Speaking on the television program Espejo Público, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said that all other neighboring countries, with the exception of Portugal, have similar and even tougher legislation.

“What’s exceptional here is the fact that we introduced it so late into our Criminal Code,” she said.

After the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) introduced a bill to roll back reviewable permanent prison, Congress on Thursday debated amendments made by the PP and Ciudadanos in a bid to prevent a repeal. The PP government wants to expand this punishment to other cases, including serial rapists, arsonists whose actions result in death, and murderers who refuse to cooperate with the police to locate the body.

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos wants tougher conditions for convicts to become eligible for parole. But neither the PP nor Ciudadanos had enough of a majority to get their amendments approved.

For and against
After its passage in 2015, opposition parties challenged the law before the Constitutional Court, which has yet to deliver a decision. The main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) openly opposes reviewable permanent prison.

Watching the debate inside Congress was a group of supporters of reviewable permanent prison that is headed by the parents of murdered children – including Juan José Cortés, father of Mariluz Cortés, a five-year-old who was killed in Huelva in 2008 by a pedophile who should have been in prison at the time in connection with a sexual abuse case.

Cortés has since been a leading campaigner of reviewable permanent prison. Other high-profile supporters of maintaining this form of punishment include the parents of Diana Quer, a Madrid teen who was assaulted and killed during her summer holidays in Galicia in August 2016. Her father, Juan Carlos Quer, and Juan José Cortés have met with Justice Minister Rafael Catalá.

Meanwhile, over 100 university professors have signed a petition against reviewable permanent prison, arguing that such punishment “does not deter criminals from committing the most serious crimes any more than the severe pre-existing punishments of up to 30 years for one crime and up to 40 for several.” According to these scholars, the notion of permanent prison “compromises some of the fundamental values that define us as a democratic society.”

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