Penal Code reform to deprive offenders of freedom after term ends

Tougher sentences being drawn up by justice minister for major crimes such as terrorism and sex offenses

The Cabinet is set to approve a reform to the 1995 Penal Code that cracks down on certain crimes, as promised by Mariano Rajoy during his run for office. Terrorists, sex offenders and recidivist criminals will get tougher sentences after the changes get the green light on Friday.

At the same time, the project eliminates an entire list of misdemeanors that were jamming up the courts. Larceny will now be punished through administrative rather than court proceedings, but professional gangs specializing in stealing wallets will face up to four years in prison.

The reform, a signature project of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón (the former mayor of Madrid), also contemplates revisable permanent prison for the worst terrorist crimes: after the convict serves a relevant portion of the conviction (35 years), he or she may obtain freedom by breaking with the terrorist group and showing willingness to offer victims compensation for moral and material damages.

The project also introduces a concept called "security custody," applicable to the worst crimes other than terrorism, and enabling authorities to deprive the prisoner of freedom for a further 10 years after completion of the jail term.

This measure aims to deal with certain individuals deemed particularly dangerous to society, such as sexual offenders, violent robbers, terrorists and drug traffickers. Security custody is already in place in Germany and other European countries, although it is a controversial measure.

Ruiz-Gallardón announced it would be adopted in Spain as well after meeting two months ago with Antonio del Castillo, the father of a young woman from Seville who was murdered in 2009 and whose body was never found. The government will also toughen the sentences for kidnappings, especially those with a sexual motive involving underage victims.

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