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At the summit of Torrecilla, in the early days of this hiking initiative. SUR
Inmates 'escape' to the hills

Inmates 'escape' to the hills

The hiking and nature programme for low-risk or open regime offenders has returned to Malaga's Alhaurín prison with town hall support

José Rodríguez Cámara

Friday, 26 January 2024, 19:28

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The official-looking document called Senderismo y Naturaleza (Hiking and Nature) is the key that opens the door of Alhaurín de la Torre prison for 150 inmates. Part of the sports and social integration programme, the scheme allows the prisoners an 'escape' .

"They get the opportunity to have a day out, to share some chill time and get tired, which is great," explained Antonio Sánchez. He is the prison's sports coach who, since 2000, has been one of the main instigators of this initiative. He is adamant that developing this idea would have been impossible without an understanding of the prison system and the support, among others, of his colleague Manuel Luzón. As with all actions undertaken in the Spanish prison system, reintegration is the keyword - in this case, based on a healthy leisure activity. Over 1,935 inmates have participated since 2000.

The programme ran uninterrupted for 20 years, involving the organisation of almost 200 days of hiking. During this time this veteran prison officer with 28 years of service even managed to set up a new trail (Presidiarios) with his team's help and with appropriate approval from forestry authorities. The route will be well-known to those who frequent Alhaurín's mountains. However, in 2020, due to the restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, activities were suspended and were only restarted last year in rather low-key fashion.

For 2024, and this is where Alhaurín de la Torre's town council comes into the picture, the hiking routes return in a big way with a range of 30 walks, the closest passing by Jarapalos and Carramolo, and the furthest being in the Sierra Nevada, not forgetting the climb up El Torrecilla, the crowning peak of the Sierra de las Nieves. The town hall's support coincides with the town being declared 2024's European Capital of Sport for Integration and Volunteering.

Town hall support

"We are very happy to be able to collaborate with the jail particularly in this specific project. There's nothing better than including inmates in such activities, getting them involved in nature, as a means of easing them back into society," said Sergio Cortés, sports councillor for Alhaurín. "This programme already existed; it was put on ice during the pandemic and we are keen to meet all objectives and ensure that it continues in the coming years," said the councillor.

Hiking is not available to all prisoners. An inmate must be at least in Category 2 (low risk) or Category 3 (open prison ) status. Antonio Sánchez also stressed that all such inmates then go through a selection process and the final list of participants must be approved by the Madrid-based General Directorate of Prisons. "These are people who are already being reintegrated into society, receiving treatment, and are not under close monitoring, so it is not a day out that requires excessive control".

Still, at the start of all routes, he always gives a warning, half in jest: "If anyone fancies making a break for it, then give me a heads-up and leg it, because I do lots of running and I'll catch you." Should an inmate be stupid enough to attempt an escape, not only would they lose all privileges but also be reported to the Guardia Civil so that they could take appropriate action. But the prison official says: "We have never had a problem and I reckon it's very unlikely we ever will." "When we are out I always remind them: You had to be sent to jail to enjoy this experience".

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