Twenty of the 190 members of ETA detained in Spanish prisons have requested to participate in restorative justice workshops launched by Penitentiary Institutions so that those convicted of all kinds of crimes feel face to face with their victims and ask for their forgiveness, according to EL PAÍS informed Basque political sources and confirmed prison sources. The objective, similar to the 14 meetings held in 2011 with repentant inmates of the terrorist organization who received the call Via Nanclares, is that the victims obtain reparation, at least symbolic, for the damage suffered and, at the same time, facilitate the reintegration of the prisoners by making them aware of the pain they have caused.
However, unlike that initiative -interrupted after the arrival of the PP to the Government that year-, these “restorative dialogues” are not focused exclusively on ETA members, but have participated in them since January 2020, all types of inmates, except convicts. for gender violence and sexual crimes. Official sources of Penitentiary Institutions have confirmed to this newspaper the interest of a group of ETA members to intervene in these workshops and the support of the Ministry of the Interior for the initiative. “Restorative justice is, above all, a right of the victims, but also an opportunity of reintegration for those convicted, including ETA prisoners, who have the same treatment as the rest of the prison population,” they point out.
The ETA prisoners who have requested to participate in these meetings are held in the prisons of Asturias, Burgos, Logroño and El Dueso (Cantabria), in which there are currently 66 members of the terrorist organization. According to prison sources, in the coming days, the treatment teams of these prisons, in collaboration with mediation professionals who regularly intervene in the preparation and holding of these meetings, will select, among the 20 who have requested it, those who are consider prepared. “It will be tried that the victims with whom they meet are direct of their attacks and, if this is not possible, with another of ETA violence or, failing that, that they can send one of them a letter”, these sources add.
ETA inmates have already been informed that their participation in the workshop will not result in a reduction in their sentence or access to prison benefits. It is the way to ensure that their interest is sincere, that they do not seek any advantage that goes beyond the strictly personal level. However, Penitentiary Institutions admit that the prison treatment teams will take this activity into account when making assessments for, for example, progress to third grade or semi-release or access permits for prisoners.
This initiative is launched after Interior end in a symbolic way, on July 1, to the policy of dispersion with the announcement of the transfer of the last four inmates of the terrorist organization who remained in prisons in Andalusia. Now all the prisoners are in prisons in the northern half of the country, closer to the Basque Country (and 54 of them are in Basque prisons). The measure has also been accompanied by a gradual change in the life regime to which ETA inmates were subjected, of whom there are only three classified in the first degree or closed regime, the hardest. These measures have been accompanied by an also significant change in the attitude of ETA members in prison, which, in some cases, has resulted in letters of repentance. In 2020, more than 40 of them apologized in writing, according to data from the fight against terrorism. The previous year had been thirty and in 2018, the year in which ETA announced its dissolution, only eight.
Contemplated in the Statute of the Victim
The restorative justice workshops that ETA prisoners will follow are not new. Contemplated in article 15 of the Statute of the Victim, they have been carried out since 2016, although then they were only offered to convicts who were serving their sentences through alternative measures, not within prison. Furthermore, the encounters were not held with direct victims, but with others who had suffered the same criminal offense for which they had been convicted. In January 2020, Interior extended the initiative to those who are serving their sentences deprived of liberty and, in addition, included the possibility of it being with the victims of their crimes. So far this year, 258 convicted persons (17 of them women) have participated in them for crimes ranging from homicide and murder to injury or robbery with force.
The program provides for inmates 10 preparation sessions of four hours each that are held weekly inside the prison. At the end of the sessions, it is the mediators, together with the prison technicians, who decide whether, once the sessions are over, the inmates are ready to hold the meeting with the victim or if, on the contrary, they are removed from the program or they need to attend more sessions than initially planned.
In the information leaflet that is provided to the victim before starting the entire process, Prisons details that the objective of the meeting is for the victim to be able to explain in person to the inmate “how he lived [el delito] and what consequences have arisen from that experience ”. It is also intended that the convicted person take responsibility for their action and ask for forgiveness. The program contemplates that the meeting – which is scheduled to be held in one or two sessions at the most – serves to agree on real or symbolic “reparation measures for the damage derived from the crime”.
Penitentiary Institutions do a final “follow-up session” with the victim to, before closing the entire process, verify that she has regained “personal tranquility”. The document emphasizes that in no case is the victim asked to forgive the offender, although the brochure states that “sometimes this comes naturally in the encounter.” In the case of prisoners, it will be the prison professionals who will assess whether the offender’s repentance is “sincere.”
The restorative justice protocol emphasizes both the “confidentiality” of the entire process and the “voluntary” nature of the victim’s participation, who will be contacted to make the offer through the Prosecutor’s Office or the offices of attention to the victims. victims of the autonomous communities. It is also stated that both the affected person and the convicted person can decide “at any time” not to proceed.
The interrupted precedent of the Nanclares road
At the end of 2008, the Ministry of the Interior began to transfer ETA prisoners critical of the gang to prisons near the Basque Country. Those who went one step further and signed a letter rejecting the violence, asking for forgiveness and committing to face compensation, were sent to the Alava prison in Nanclares de Oca, where in 2011 the initiative for encounters with the victims, the Vía Nanclares.
Josu Elespe, son of Froilán Elespe, the first socialist councilor assassinated by ETA, met with a dissident from the gang; Maixabel Lasa, with two of the murderers of Juan María Jauregui, her husband; Emiliano Revilla, with his kidnapper, Joseba Urrusolo Sistiaga; Rosa, victim of Hipercor, with Rafael Caride, convicted of the attack. Former ETA members Iñaki Recarte, Fernando de Luis Astarloa and Valentín Lasarte also participated in these interviews.
In 2011, the PP won the elections and the new government did not follow the line started in Nanclares. Meetings with prior mediation were stopped.