Juan Torres CIRE

The Catalan prison work model in times of transition

// Interview: Juan Torres López

Director General of CIRE – Centre for Reintegration Initiatives, Catalonia, Spain


JT: What is CIRE and what are its objectives?

JTL: CIRE (Centre for Reintegration Initiatives) is the public company of the Department of Justice of the Government of Catalonia that aims to give a second chance, to people deprived of their liberty, through vocational training both in prisons and juvenile justice facilities. This objective is met through productive workshops that take place inside the penitentiary centres.

The setting-up of the workshops is carried out in collaboration with the private companies that participate in the project – they make a contract with CIRE when this is the case – and at our own expense when it comes to workshops that we use for production for the public sector.

We work according to the profile of the client and of the activity, and the training is provided according to the demands of the labour market, contributing to the reintegration of a group at risk of social exclusion, and assuming criteria of corporate social responsibility.

JT: To what extent is the CIRE different from the traditional models of industries and work in the prison context?

JTL: The difference is that our focus is based on training and reintegration, beyond a simple occupation. We define itineraries of socio-labour integration from an ultimate vision of their insertion upon release from prison, more than from the occupation itself during the fulfilment of the sentence.

Although prison work is essential for rehabilitation, we not only look after the occupation of the inmates, but we also develop an insertion model – which I believe to be a pioneer – that integrates training, work practice and support in the later phase.

This integrated process, in which they acquire work habits and professional skills, is a basic one when considering the return of inmates to society.
We have a model – called TOI (Training, Occupation, Insertion) – which is based on three fundamental elements: 1) we offer quality training comparable to any standardised training centre, with approved programs and professional certification; 2) the work is paid and integrated into the Social Security contribution model; and 3) support to a proactive job search, during the last stage of the sentence.

In addition, we have a job exchange – the first one of a public entity – that aims at the insertion of people deprived of freedom, acting as a bridge to the job market. In this model, work is a tool, not a purpose.

taller CIRE Catalonia

JT: How many inmates are involved in prison work through CIRE and what is their profile?

JTL: We want to offer a profile as wide as possible where any inmate has room, and where we are the ones that adapt our training and work process to the needs of each one.

The profile of the inmate is moulded according to not only the training he/she receives but also according to his/her work destination or training itinerary.

Currently, we can find activities ranging from specialties that require a more specific training – such as graphic arts, masonry, clothing, construction, etc. – to those that require less training, such as handling, assembly, cleaning and maintenance.

Of the 8.630 inmates of the Catalan penitentiary system, 6.550 are trained to work (there are some who cannot, due to their legal or health situation) and 4.300 work with us, that is, more than 65% of the active population in custody.

Our focus is on training and reintegration, beyond a simple occupation: work is a tool, not a purpose.

JT: What are the working conditions that are offered?

JTL: The employment relationship established by CIRE with the inmates is regulated by a State law. It’s paid work and, in general, the inmates work in morning or afternoon shifts, at a rate of four hours per shift.

Inmates are automatically included in the General Social Security System as any other worker in freedom and enjoy the same provision of health care and protective action. They are also protected by the contingency of unemployment upon their release, at the rate of what they have contributed during their time in that job.

The compensation they receive is based on the normal performance of the job they carry out. We have developed a deep revision of the remuneration model of prison work and are currently and we are putting it into practice.

The objective is to move from a per-piece pay rate model to one in which time and quality prevail – and also productivity, but already as a motivational add-on. We have incorporated qualitative elements that allow us to classify workers in different job categories, depending on the degree of competence they are assuming, which, in turn, will allow them a progression and, consequently, higher payment.

This reform will make the inmate’s life closer to what he/she will have when he/she is released and (re)joins the labour market.

JT: And what is the state of affairs regarding this new compensation model?

JTL: We are experimenting a trial period since October 2017. It is a revolutionary project because it breaks the vision one has of prison work and of the compensation formulation from it very basis, so the terms of its transposition are somewhat slow.

The forecast is that in 2018 we will be able to integrate, at least, a third centre into the pilot test and that all other centres could be integrated before the end of 2019.

We have defined a whole model of employment relationship according to the legislation that underlies the general labour regime (in freedom) and we have set up a relationship model with private companies, since that this change will also impact their profit. This presupposes a process of renegotiation with many companies and the replacement of some that will not fit into this model.

Those companies that are in the two pilot centres have offered an important collaboration, but, from a practical point of view, the change in the economic system of the relationship between the companies and CIRE will take several months to become a reality. There is goodwill, but the economic adjustment is not automatic.

JT: How does the inmates´ recruitment process work?

JTL: Our goal is to provide work to any inmate who is eligible both legally and physically, and who is voluntarily willing to work. Work is part of what, in our system, we call the ITP (Individualised Treatment Program).

Thus, work groups are created, between CIRE itself and the treatment team of each centre, which analyses the cases of inmates requesting a job. Security elements are taken into account, such as the health area, the specialised care area (which manages the inmate’s rehabilitation itinerary), the educational area (which is responsible for the complementary or mandatory training to carry out a work activity) and the socio-economic and family area (which bases its activity on criteria such as family burdens and connections).

The vacancies are interwoven with the list of eligible inmates, which is previously evaluated and segmented according to their education and skills. Whenever it’s required – either in advance or simultaneously – the inmate is provided with a training course or an educational schedule.

Once the pre-selection is done, the inmates are referred to the most suitable jobs. This joint activity results in a single file of the worker, whose objective is to gather all the data (personal, professional, training, disciplinary, judicial and medical), in a document that facilitates the decision making regarding the inmate.

Nothing could justify that the rights of workers are not respected in the same terms as those of any other worker.

JT: What products / services are developed and how are they marketed?

JTL: We develop several products and services depending on the type of client that we have at each moment. Regarding work in the internal, the CIRE manages the kitchen, the cafeteria, the bakery, storage, and the laundry services in all the penitentiary centres of Catalonia. This allows us great versatility.

In addition, we have our own production line whose brand is “Made in CIRE”. This project brings together a catalog of products that are mostly manufactured in the clothing production workshops, but the idea is to expand it to other sectors.

Its products range from bags to notebooks, through cushions or tablecloths and are sold in specialised decoration or handicrafts stores, and in the tourist kiosks of “Visit Barcelona”. The sales results revert directly to the project, contributing to pay for the inmates’’ wages, machinery and raw materials.

JT: How do you decide to develop a new product or offer a new service?

JTL: The proposals come from the client or toCIRE’s sales team. When a new activity is proposed, we carry out a feasibility and cost study to determine the price to be applied to that new product or service and the actions and/or changes that would have to be implemented in the production workshops to move it forward.

Recently we have established a new model of analysis and acceptance of new proposals, in order to objective economic criteria and strict social control of the companies that work with CIRE, because we want to make sure that they really fit our philosophy and objectives, and that we would not be limiting ourselves exclusively to a mercantilist or economistic criterion.

JT: How much income is generated per year and how are the profits invested?

JTL: CIRE is a public sector company, it has a budget of its own supervised by the Department of Justice. In 2016 that budget amounted to more than €50 million.

This budget is fed by different items, the most significant being those that come from the industrial activity itself that we carry out with public and private companies, which represents approximately 85%. In these items we find the benefit received from clients and the remunerations that the public sector (especially the Generalitat de Catalunya) pays for the services that CIRE manages within the penitentiary centres.

In 2016, CIRE received a current transfer of approximately €6 million, for the financing of actions that are not directly productive.
CIRE does not get any earnings from its activity, as all production is intended for the inmates’ reintegration.

JT: What do you have to say to those who defend that work inside prisons exploits inmates, because the payment is much lower than the minimum wage and also because several labor rights are not observed?

JTL: That debate is an old one and was one of the first concerns I faced when I joined, in 2016. Our normative regulation is not very clear about this, and it tells us that the minimum wage should be taken as a reference, but that reference is not adequately defined in the law.

Personally, I believe that, in prison work, the salary is not only composed of direct economic compensation, but it also includes elements of a motivational nature and, especially, training.

The cost of such elements can be passed on to the company that has a contract with the system, but that is extremely complicated to manage, because the private company, even though it understands and accepts the purpose of making deals with an entity such as CIRE, it does not stop having the economic performance as its main objective, and always seeks a competitive advantage.

In that sense, we must assume that it is the Public Administration that supports the difference of the price paid up to that level of compensation that we would consider as fair.

In our recent revision of the compensation model, which I explained earlier, we have also incorporated elements of stabilisation of the price per hour worked that will allow us to reach – and then even exceed – the minimum wage.

As far as the rights of workers are concerned, nothing could justify that they are not respected in the same terms as those of any other worker: Social Security contributions, safety and prevention of risks at work constitute standards that, for us, have been, are and always will be a priority.

We cannot guarantee that, at the end of a prison sentence, a person will get a job, but we must guarantee that he/she can perform, in the labour market, in similar conditions.

JT: What impact does CIRE have on the employability of prisoners and on their ability to lead productive lives after they are released?

JTL: We do not have much information at the level of official studies; however we do know that, through the mediation of our insertion department and job board, during 2016, more than one thousand work contracts were signed between people who were finishing the sentence – or that were already free – with companies from different economic sectors.

We also have a study of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, dated 2010, where 3.225 people who had been released from prison, from 2004 to 2007, were analysed. One of the main conclusions, in terms of prison work, is that more than 43% of former inmates obtained an occupation and were registered in the Social Security System.

From the study, it was deduced that the penitentiary work has more repercussion in the labour insertion with respect to the people who have never worked, who did have neither studies nor labour skills, and to a lesser extent in those who already had previous work experience.

The study concluded that prison work and training are key aspects for social integration and job placement. It also resulted in the recommendation that CIRE should rethink its model. It was after this recommendation that CIRE opted for a model of integral management, becoming a reference. Professional certification has radically transformed the philosophy and training model of CIRE.

taller_confeccion CIRE Catalonia

JT: What are the key factors for CIRE’s success and what challenges do you face?

JTL: Our main success factor is our TOI model (Training, Occupation and Insertion) that I have previously explained. And, of course, the work done by our job counsellors is fundamental, providing professional and personalised support in the active search for a job, which is the ultimate goal of our mission.

In addition, the CIRE model is based on versatility; we have a commercial performance that is specifically aimed at the private sector and that looks for collaboration opportunities from a point of view of adapting to any request, because that is the only way to keep up to date and aligned with what the companies out there, in the job market, will demand from the workers that we are going to “hand over” to them.

The main challenge is the implementation of the changes we have put in place: the relationship with companies, the new compensation model, the inmate’s single file and the labour insertion itinerary. The idea on which this approach revolves is to overcome a strict assistance vision and focus on society and on the job market, which is our true purpose.

We cannot guarantee that, at the end of a prison sentence, a person will get a job, but we must guarantee that he/she can perform, in the labour market, in similar conditions, and that he/she will have the necessary tools to do so.


Juan Torres López started his professional career in the Savings Bank of Catalonia, where he was part of the Steering Committee. He has also developed his career in the CLA Group Consulting, where he has worked as a lawyer and business adviser, specialising in strategy and social management issues. He has a degree in Law from the University of Barcelona and is a certified EFA – European Financial Advisor by the Institute of Financial Studies.



IPS Information Technology

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