It is all too frequent to see libertad condicional and libertad provisional confused in the Spanish press. Here are some recent headlines: “Paco Pérez* abandonó en la tarde del viernes la prisión de Picassent (Valencia) al haberle sido concedida la libertad condicional tras abonar una fianza de 30.000 euros.” Or, “Manolo Martínez,* presunto coautor de una estafa de más de 900.000 euros, salió en la tarde de ayer de la cárcel de Puerto II en libertad condicional.” Of course, what was actually meant here is libertad provisional, not libertad condicional.
Journalists can’t afford to make this mistake, and translators certainly can’t either. So what’s the difference between libertad provisional and libertad condicional?
In Spain libertad condicional generally denotes the early release of a prison inmate who is classified in what is termed tercer grado del tratamiento penitenciario (the minimum security level of the offender treatment program), has served at least three-fourths of his sentence (que haya cumplido las tres cuartas partes de la condena) and who has exhibited good behavior (observado buena conducta).** When granted libertad conditional, an inmate is allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community. In that regard, libertad condicional may perhaps be rendered as “early release” or as “parole” (the latter defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “the release of a prisoner from imprisonment before the full sentence has been served”). Related terminology includes conceder/revocar la libertad condicional (to grant/to revoke parole) and violación de la libertad condicional (parole violation).
Thus Pepe and Manolo appearing in the headlines above are not en libertad condicional (on parole), because they have not been formally accused, tried or convicted of an offense, nor are they serving a custodial sentence (cumpliendo una pena privativa de libertad) for which they could be granted parole. What the journalists meant to say was that they have been granted libertad provisional, having been released on bail pending their respective trials.
Indeed, in Spanish criminal proceedings libertad provisional generally denotes “pretrial release,” or “release pending trial,” referring to the release of a criminal suspect or defendant pending the outcome of a criminal investigation or while awaiting trial. In this case a judge may order libertad (provisional) con fianza (“release on bail”) or libertad (provisional) sin fianza, a “release without bail” similar to “release on recognizance” (ROR) in the US in which the releasee promises to appear for trial at a later date. In Spain libertad sin fianza is often granted with medidas cautelares (in this context, “conditions”) such as the requirement to periodically report to the court (obligación de comparecer en el juzgado).
*”The names have been changed to protect the innocent”
**Early release can granted exceptionally under other circumstances (supuestos especiales de adelantamiento de la libertad condicional). These include libertad anticipada por enfermedad (often referred to in English as “compassionate release”) for inmates suffering from a serious incurable disease (internos aquejados de enfermedad grave incurable), or inmates over 70 years old (internos mayores de 70 años).