Now a similar situation has been revealed in its prison system: five new prisons plus 26 units in existing facilities stand empty apart from the occasional security guard patrolling the fences.
The vast, 350,000sqm (3,770,000 square foot) Malaga II prison in the Andalusian town of Archidona has 1,000 cells in 16 buildings. Its facilities include a football pitch, a solar heating plant and a dedicated water treatment plant. It was built at a cost of €117 million and was predicted to have 2,000 inmates and 600 workers.
Today it is the biggest empty prison in world.
Its €800,000 development budget for next year is not even enough to furnish it and it costs €3.2 million a year in security, inspection and maintenance just to keep it habitable. The alternative is to let the facilities rot and have to pay more when the time comes to open it.
According to Spanish daily Diario Sur, the 1000-capacity Mas d'Enric prison in Tarragona costs the local city hall €1 million per month in rent, even though it's empty. Other prisons in Ceuta, Soria and Levante are unfinished and no date has been set to open any of the new centres.
Jesús Otín, head of prisons at workers' union UGT said, "The government has slowed down the planned work and abandoned the construction of ten new Social Integration Centres because they don't believe in the model of serving sentences in semi-liberty from open prisons."
The number of prisoners in Spain has plunged in recent years, from 76,079 in 2009 to 67,404 at the end of 2013 due to increased deportations, electronic tagging, reforms of the penal code and pardons. Former Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, according to a spokesperson from ACAIP union, pardoned enough people just on Good Fridays to empty a small prison.
But new reforms planned for next year could provoke a "hailstorm" of new prisoners according to Ángel Moreno, head of prisons at the CCOO union.
"The new code will introduce more life sentences. When someone enters, and they don't expect to ever get out, there are problems with security and behaviour towards other inmates," he said.
Unions are concerned that the government's end goal may be to privatize prisons if, as predicted, the current system is unable to cope with the influx.
Two thousand jobs have been axed because of budget cuts, putting strain on those who remain. Between 900 and 3,000 more would be needed to staff the new prisons.
According to Spanish daily El País, 85 per cent of Spain's existing prisons have fewer guards, medical staff and other qualified personnel than in 2011 and the staff who remain are ageing: in 2020, a third of prison personnel will be aged over 58.
A government spokesperson blamed the previous administration for the situation, saying that it had "continued to order new correctional facilities, many of them of a luxurious nature, unnecessary for the re-education and social rehabilitation outlined in the Spanish constitution."