Yet for all the volunteers, Mr. Ortiz still thinks his biggest challenge may be convincing Spain’s corrupt officials that there actually might be something wrong with them.

“They are people with money and power — and we are struggling against this idea that they can get away with anything and don’t actually need the help,” he said.

For that, the government turned to Sergio Ruiz, a prison psychiatrist in the southern city of Seville who helped design the program. Dr. Ruiz said that in addition to getting participants to recognize their flaws in group therapy, inmates would eventually be asked to participate in “restorative justice” sessions where they would ask for forgiveness from their victims.

Dr. Ruiz explained he had been surprised at the outset when he searched the scientific literature and found almost nothing on rehabilitating white collar criminals. Psychiatrists had studied murderers ad nauseam, Dr. Ruiz explained. But few had ever bothered to get inside the mind of the shady functionary who swindled the public garbage fund.

So Dr. Ruiz decided to run a study of his own. He asked for volunteers from three groups — white collar prisoners, violent criminals and a “control” group of ordinary Spaniards — and surveyed each on their values and beliefs.

The results surprised everyone, he said.

“We think of these people as ruthless, but that’s not how it is,” Dr. Ruiz said of white collar criminals. “They have the same system of values as any ordinary citizen.”

Instead, Dr. Ruiz said, corrupt minds have a unique capacity to create exceptions to their own rules, what cognitive psychologists sometimes call “moral disengagement.” They have intricate ways of explaining away their misdeeds as somehow benefiting others rather than themselves.

And Dr. Ruiz found dangerous levels of two other traits in the fraudsters.

“Egocentrism and narcissism,” he said.

At first glance, Mr. Alburquerque, the corrupt notary in Córdoba who volunteered to be rehabilitated, doesn’t appear to have much of either. He’s mild-mannered and speaks in hushed tones even in the loud hubbub of the penitentiary. It’s hard to imagine that he pocketed nearly a half-million dollars before he was caught.

“Here, one has to take responsibility,” he said, admitting he had been wrong.

But there’s more to the story, Mr. Alburquerque said.

While sums of money may have disappeared under his watch, he had always made sure his employees were highly paid, unlike many other notary offices, he said. He had even attempted to return much of the fraud money before he was caught. Anyone in Córdoba could attest to the fact that he was a key member of the city, he added.

“I have an advantage over other mortals, but not all, in that I can sleep five hours less than others,” he said of his work ethic. “Always what I’ve done is worked and studied.”

They are words that Yolanda González Pérez, the prison warden, says she’s heard before from other white collar criminals who haven’t fully accepted their crimes.

“They tell themselves ‘I’m not as much of a criminal as the others are,’” she said.

But Mr. Ortiz, the director of the Spanish prison system, isn’t worried. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves with Mr. Alburquerque and other participants who might be willing to rethink their old ways.

Maybe a breakthrough will come early on, when according to a summary of the rehabilitation manual, psychiatrists will begin the process of “therapeutic alliance” to form a bond with the corrupt officials.

Or later on in week five, when the inmates “will finally take on the subject of developing humility and empathy.”

It takes patience to change someone, Mr. Ortiz said.

“We can be working months in these sessions,” he said. “We just keep at it with the prisoners and we’ll see when the fruit is ripe.”

José Bautista contributed reporting from Madrid.

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