Aranjuez, Spain: Victor Manuel Lozano spends his days like most 2-year-olds. He goes to nursery school, draws, rides a tricycle. The difference is he does it in prison, living with his mother, a convicted murderer, and his dad, a drug trafficker.

Welcome to a prison that Spanish officials say is the only one in the world with cells for families. The spacious units dubbed "five-star cells" come replete with cribs and Disney characters on the walls. Outside there's even a prison playground for the kids.

The idea is for children to bond with their imprisoned parents while young enough not to fully grasp the reality of incarceration, and for inmates seeking rehabilitation to learn parenting skills.

No one thinks it is an ideal situation - not the prison psychologist, nor the imprisoned parents themselves. But the arrangement beats the pain of separation.

"They take good care of us, and having my child and husband with me makes me very happy," said Carmen Garcia, 28, Victor Manuel's mother. "But this is not the best place to bring up a child. In some ways they are imprisoned too." Garcia was sentenced to a minimum ten years in prison for murdering her boyfriend. She met her husband Victor Lozano in prison. They got married behind bars and she gave birth to Victor Manuel.

For the toddler, prison is the only world he knows.

At dawn a guard wakes the family up for roll call. At night, after a day playing with other inmates' children in a yard, Victor Manuel is locked up again. Sometimes he stands outside the cell crying because he does not want to go back behind the bars.

"For him it's the saddest part of the day," Garcia said.

The prison in this town 40 kilometres south of Madrid has 36 cell units for families, although now only 16 are occupied, most with Latin Americans. The children can only stay until they are three years old. After that they are taken away and put with relatives or with social services, and their parents go back to regular cells.

"It's tough to be in jail, but in this section you completely forget you are in a prison," said Ramona Montoya, 33, another inmate at the prison, who is serving an 11-year sentence for drug trafficking.