THE BARAÑÍ PROJECT. Roma women and the Spanish Criminal Justice System

Around 25% of women prison inmates in Spain are Roma women. This is an overrepresentation 20 times greater then in comparison with the general population (Roma are about 1.4% of the Spanish population). This Webpage is an analysis and a denouncement of this reality, and is oriented towards promoting actions against what we considered a serious violation of human rights.

The Barañí project began with the conviction that this overrepresentation of Roma women in Spanish prisons must be considered as a grave failure of our society. It is inadmissible that one of the most excluded collectives in Spain is suffering the harsher treatment that the State has at is disposal: long sentences in prison.

For over a year the Barañí Project has been investigating the reality of these 1000 or so women, trapped in processes of discrimination, exclusion, criminalization and prison, as well as analyzing the decisions and discourses of the different institutions of the criminal justice system. The result are the texts which our presented here. All are in Spanish, although we hope in the future to translate some, if not all, of our study to English.

The first chapter is the presentation (Presentación) of the project and the research team, and the introduction (Introducción), to the investigation.

The second chapter is a series of theoretical documents (Marco teórico), which is divided in three sections:

Some notes about the Spanish Roma Community (Algunos apuntes sobre la comunidad gitana) is a brief analysis of the processes of exclusion and discrimination, which have affected the lives of the women who are imprisoned, and which also affect an important part of the Roma community in Spain. We have looked at questions of class, ethnicity, and gender.

The second section (Procesos de selección en el sistema penal) selection processes in the criminal justice system looks at the selective and discriminatory mechanisms of the Spanish criminal justice system, responsible for the majority presence of the most disadvantaged collectives within the prisons. These mechanisms are responsible for the fact that Roma women are much more liable to be arrested, judged, and condemned than other members of the society.

The third section (Las limitaciones del sistema punitivo) The limits of punitive penal systems analyzes the enormous limits of the actual punitive justice and prison system as mechanisms to deal with complex social problems. There is a specific treatment of the grave limits to repressive strategies to the problem of drug abuse. This question is of great importance in that 95% of the Roma women prisoners are there for drug dealing, or property crimes related to drug abuse.

The third chapter (Estudio sociológico) includes the complete text of the sociological investigation, which we have carried out. Almost 300 Roma women were surveyed in prison and 10 participated in in-depth interviews. Interviews were also carried out among members of the criminal justice system (Prosecutors, judges, lawyers, police and prison officials) as well as with members of the Roma community as a whole.

The fourth chapter is a document of recommendations and possible lines of action, (Recomendaciones y líneas de actuación). These are a series of proposals aimed at prevention, against exclusion and discrimination, for improving judicial guarantees, for improving prison treatment programs, and of possible alternative to prison. This document is important in that the Barañí Project is not just an investigation, but a demand for action, and we hope the beginning of a series of initiatives aimed at transforming this reality. At the same time we make a call for the development of a network of persons, organizations and public institutions to continue with the work of investigation and development of new alternatives.

The last chapter is a bibliography (Bibliografía)

We hope that this page can be a forum for discussion, which can broaden the ideas and alternatives proposed, and we hope that readers will send us their reflections, comments or criticisms.

A Summary of Recommendations

The over-representation of Romani women in Spanish prisons represents a serious failure on the part of our society and its institutions. Such failure is a direct reflection of deep-seated prejudices that find their outlet in discrimination and in social and economic exclusion, and a excessive use of punitive measures in the face of profound social problems that call for the implementation of serious measures for change.


Economic exclusion is often the starting point in processes of criminalization. In order to fight against economic and employment exclusion, particularly as it affects Romani women, we propose the following lines of work:

  • Firm support for increased job training and retraining schemes for Romani people, more resources for placements and scholarships, and work with unions and professional associations in this area.
  • Systematic and resolute action against employment discrimination by imposing penalties for clear cases of injustice.
  • Encouraging positive actions that favors the hiring of Romani men and women.
  • The need for realistic and flexible regularization and recognition of the economic activities in which the majority of Romani people are involved; street vending, junk collection and farm work. This includes programs for tax reduction for certain activities, more flexible licensing procedures, promotion of Romani people in the waste recycling industry and actions aimed at counteracting abusive labor practices in agricultural work.



Segregated Romani neighborhoods do not reflect a desire of the Romani people to live apart from the rest of society, but are a result of exclusion and specific administrative housing policies, with the obvious negative consequences such exclusion generates. It is necessary to end segregated neighborhoods through:

- Acceleration of re-housing programs, with increased family support work.

- Improved mediation work with new neighbors.

- The opening of channels of participation for the affected people in the re-housing programs.

- The adoption of firm measures against discrimination in the housing market.



- Introduction of Romani history and culture into all school curriculums.

- Extension and support for education programs and teaching methods which take into account the culture and needs of Romani children.

- Training for teachers about the culture and reality of Romani people.

- Special attention to detect and eliminate segregation practices in schools.



Social services play an important role in promoting alternatives and programs to counter social-economic exclusion. Some main areas of work are:

- More resources and dedication of social services to the most excluded sectors of the Romani community, with greater flexibility and sensitivity towards their needs.

- Efforts to reduce of the use of social services as a form of social control or for processes of assimilation.

- Promotion of Romani mediators and professionals to work with, and in, social service institutions

- Training for social service personnel regarding Romani culture and the day-to-day reality of Romani people.

- More dedication to programs of drug abuse, with special attention to abuse among Romani Women.


The creation of an Observatory for Romani Participation dedicated to:

- The detection and reporting of discrimination against Romani people in all areas of society (employment, housing, education, social services, the media, the criminal justice system…). The use of Ethnic Monitoring programs to detect collective discrimination.

- The promotion of programs aimed at increasing the presence and participation of Roma in both the public and private sectors, in social organizations and in society in general.

- The promotion of studies, research and communication about the history, culture and reality of Romani people, and about the objectives and challenges of an intercultural society.


In the processes of discrimination and criminalization the Media play a key role. They have a great responsibility in the shaping of society's attitudes towards the Romani community, as well as public perceptions of crime, insecurity, justice and prison. Some of the recommendations regarding this responsibility are:

- More attention to the ethical code for journalists drawn up by Union Romani.

- Scholarships and positive action to increase the participation of Romani men and women in the media.

- Increased support for Romani Media.

- Develop a forum for discussion and debate regarding the extent of the media's responsibility for creating what we might term "moral panic" and perceptions of insecurity.


The first step to reduce selective effects in the different levels of the criminal justice system is to recognize the existence of discretionary processes, and that the decisions and options exercised by the professionals in the criminal justice system produce specific social effects.

We recommend the development of an Observatory on Criminal Justice, Discretionality and Consequences, with the participation of the administration, civil organizations and experts, to carry out the following work:

- Increase investigation and knowledge regarding crime in general in our society in such a way that the focus is not always on the most disadvantaged social classes.

- Investigation regarding police, judicial and prison decisions and actions, aimed at discovering their effects on different collectives, and at studying the social consequences. (Sentencing Studies, studies regarding police targeting, on effects of imprisonment…).

- Systematic investigations, with independent observers, regarding treatment in police stations, courts and prisons.

- Encourage investigation and discussion regarding the limitations of the penal system in terms of crime reduction, conflict and anti-social actions.

- Develop programs for alternatives to punitive measures, in particular programs of mediation between victims and offenders.

- Promote discussion around the revision of the new Penal Code, in particular with regard to how it has increased average time spent in prison, and the lack of alternatives to prison offered for the majority of inmates.

- Develop mechanisms to detect the existence and consequences of discrimination in the evaluation processes of prison professionals regarding punishments and privileges, inmate classification, parole, etc,

We can assume that among the professionals in the criminal justice system the same negative prejudices and stereotypes against Romani people exist as in society at large. For this reason the following recommendations are proposed:

  • Training of Criminal Justice personnel in the culture, history and reality of the Spanish Romani peoples.
  • Programs for training and employing Romani mediators to work in police stations, courts and prisons, as well as with lawyers and public defenders.
  • Programs to increase Romani people's knowledge of legal rights, in areas of employment, housing, dealing with the state institutions and with the criminal justice system.
  • Programs for training more Romani lawyers and legal-aid workers



Of the 4000 women imprisoned in Spain, between 800 to a 1000 are Romani women. In spite of having specific needs and interests the majority of the prisons have no specific programs for these women. Our recommendations are:

- Better identify needs of Romani women inmates, and development of programs suited to these needs

- Extend to all prisons with Romani women inmates the specific programs which are currently being implemented in some prisons by NGOS and Romani associations

Romani inmates receive an average prison sentence of 6.7 years. It is necessary to develop initiatives that shorten time served in prison and the negative effects caused thereby. Some proposals are:

  • Sentences should be carried out in prisons near inmate’s homes (14% of the women are imprisoned outside their Autonomous Community, and another 30% outside their province.
  • More programs for access to early release, half way houses, homes for mothers with children in prison... Participation of Romani associations in these initiatives.
  • Support programs for ex-prisoners, particularly programs for job training and placement.

Modern Spanish Prisons are very hard, massive structures, with a level of resources dedicated to security way out of proportion to the possible security threat the vast majority of women inmates represent. We recommend the development of minimum security, more open centers.

PRESS RELEASE: The Barañí Project study of Romani women prison inmates in Spain

On February, 2000, the Spanish non-governmental Barañí Project published a study on Romani women in Spanish prisons, documenting severe discrimination. During 1999, the Barañí team interviewed 290 Romani women in twelve prisons, and carried out in depth interviews with numerous persons from the criminal justice system– police, prosecutors, judges and prison officials. According to the study, although Roma comprise approximately 1.5% of the total population of Spain, over 25% of Spanish women inmates are Romani. Sixty percent of Romani women inmates are serving sentences for drug dealing, usually on a small scale. Most of the rest of the women are in jail for theft or robbery, usually related to problems of drug abuse. The average sentence being served by Romani women involved in the study is 6.7 years. Sixty percent are repeat offenders. Eighty-seven percent were held in pre-trial detention following arrest. Eighty-seven percent of the women are mothers. Fourteen percent of the women are reportedly imprisoned outside their autonomous region and another 30% outside their province. There are very few rehabilitation programs specifically designed for Romani women.

In its analysis, the Barañí Project study focuses on three main areas. First of all, the study notes the presence of profound discriminatory practices and attitudes against the Romani community in the wider Spanish society-- in the labor market, housing practices, education, social services and the media. The study examines how this affects the lives of the women interviewed. According to the study, the women are victims of triple discrimination-- on the basis of class, ethnic origin and gender.

Secondly the Barañí Project study analyzes the discriminatory forces in the criminal justice system itself. The study documents various steps in the chain of events leading to high levels of incarceration for long periods of time. The study examines Spanish penal laws to see which crimes are more harshly punished. Due to a lack of statistics regarding the prison population in general, a complete lack of ethnic-based statistics and no comprehensive data on sentencing, the study cannot demonstrate conclusively that discrimination against Romani women exists at all levels. However, discourse analysis of members of the criminal justice system indicates strong patterns of bias, combined with systematic denial by individuals that they could be responsible for discriminatory treatment. Based on empirical evidence, the study notes that compared with non-Romani women, Romani women are more actively pursued by police and other criminal justice officials when warrants are pending against them; more likely to be targeted by police for spontaneous searches; have fewer guarantees in arrest procedures; are more likely to be tried, found guilty, and imprisoned; are less likely to receive alternatives to prison, less likely to be paroled, and less likely to receive pardons.

The third area of concern the Barañí Project study is to set in a problematic light the utility of harsh punitive measures against these women. Apart from a lack of realistic rehabilitation programs in many centers, all of which could be classified as maximum security, the long sentences have destructive effects on the women and very negative effects on their children and families. The study also casts serious doubts on the utility of long prison sentences in combating small-scale drug dealing. Due to the very visible nature of the street-level drug trade found is some segregated Romani neighborhoods, Roma are held responsible as a group by the public for the problem of drug abuse in Spain.

Perhaps the most disturbing conclusion is that there is almost no public discussion about the problem of discrimination against Roma, with the exception of a dim but inadequate recognition that discrimination against Roma exists.

Noting that "overrepresentation of Romani women in Spanish prisons is a grave failure of our society and its institutions," the Barañí Project study includes approximately thirty pages of recommendations to Spanish officials aimed at stamping out discrimination against Romani women in all areas of Spanish life. Unfortunately too numerous to provide here in full, a summary of a few of the Barañí Project recommendations in the field of criminal justice follow:

  • Recognise the existence of arbitrary, discriminatory treatment in the criminal justice system, as well as the social effects of such treatment.
  • Develop an Oversight Body on Discrimination and its Consequences in the Criminal Justice System;
  • Train members of the criminal justice system in the culture, history and present circumstances of Roma in Spain.
  • Implement programs for training and employing Romani mediators for work in police stations, courts and prisons, as well as with lawyers and public defenders.
  • Introduce programs to increase awareness of legal rights among Roma, especially in areas of employment, housing, public administration and criminal justice.
  • Implement programs to increase the number Romani lawyers and legal-aid workers.
  • Identify the needs of Romani women inmates, and development of programs to address those needs; systematize successful NGO prison projects.
  • Incarcerate women near their homes.
  • Develop programs to improve access to early release such as "half-way houses"; solicit the active participation of Romani organisations in these initiatives.
  • Develop programs for ex-prisoners, particularly programs for job training and placement, and finance these projects adequately.
  • Improve prison infrastructure to provide for a more humane environment for inmates.



The full Spanish text of the study, as well as further information on the Barañí Project in English, is available at: or through Daniel Wagman, C/Libertad 11- 2º, 28004 Madrid, Spain. Tel: 34 91 531 8904.




About this web page:

"Barañí": women's prison en caló, the language of the Spanish Roma. Dictionary de caló de Barsaly Dávila y Blas Pérez, 1943

This project has been financed by Initiative Daphne, Task Force of the European Commission and directed by the Association LA KALLE of Madrid.

Copies of the study are also available in CD ROM (750 ptas.) o photocopied (2.500 ptas.) plus postage.


  • Graciela Hernández
  • Elixabete Imaz
  • Maite Martín
  • María Naredo
  • Begoña Pernas
  • Aysel Tandogan
  • Daniel Wagman

WEBMASTER: Maika García
ILUSTRATIONS: Carmen Martin Muñoz-Baroja


San Cosme y San Damián 24, 1º 28012 Madrid
Tel: 91 527 7894/ 91 531 8904/ 91 527 7742