Spain's Socialist government is tightening up the penal code it relaxed only last spring. Since it freed thousands of prisoners who were awaiting trial, there has been a significant jump in the crime rate. Figures for 1983 indicate a 32 percent increase in crime in general, including a 60 percent rise in robberies involving violence.
A slow and inadequate justice system, lack of coordination among different police forces, and what Socialist Party supporters see as a well-orchestrated campaign by the right-wing opposition, have undermined a reform that was meant to regulate custody and correct the unconstitutional situation of holding people without trial.
Between the end of April and December 1983, 7,000 prisoners of an inmate population of 22,000 were released - most of them on conditional liberty pending trial. More than 2,000 are back in jail.
A recent wave of kidnappings, murders, and armed robberies has set off protests and demonstrations by the small business class, political parties, and even the Roman Catholic Church.
A shocked Spanish public has discovered the existence of 11-year-old heroin addicts while figures show some 75 percent of crimes connected to drugs.
After a special meeting between Justice Minister Fernando Ledesma and Interior Minister Jose Barrio-Nuevo, the government is taking steps to extend custody limits. ''Preventive detention'' will go up to one year for minor offenses, two for more serious crimes, and can be doubled at the discretion of the judge.
Mr. Ledesma is also recommending more caution in granting bail. But he maintains that the liberalization of drug laws will not be touched. Judges will have to examine cases more closely to decide whether drugs are for personal use or traffic.
Administrative measures include the creation of more courts and the setting up of a judicial police force directly dependent on the courts to facilitate investigations.
After the recent flap over the crime issue, President Felipe Gonzalez declared this was the right time to fight against delinquency before it reached the level of other democratic states.