Dispute over administration of youth detention facility

Ministry: Educators, not guards, should run facility for non-criminal minors.

May 27, 2010 02:04
2 minute read.

A detention facility for minors who are not criminals should be run by educators and welfare workers, not prison guards, attorney Gilad Barnea told the High Court of Justice on Wednesday.

Barnea is representing the Justice Ministry’s Legal Aid Unit in a petition demanding that a facility currently under renovation for youths between the age of 12 and 18 not be administered by the Prisons Service.

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Currently, some 38 youths who are not accompanied by adults are being held at Givon Prison, near Ramle, and another 12 are due to join them, at which point the prison will reach full capacity.

A renovated facility near Hadera is due to be ready for operation in September, replacing Givon. Barnea is demanding that the new facility, known as Michal, not be administered by the Prisons Service.

Barnea petitioned the High Court earlier this year on behalf of 24 minors who were confined at Givon. Since then, the authorities have found other frameworks for all but one of them, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, flanked by two prison guards.

“This minor, who is not a criminal, symbolizes the entire problem,” said Barnea, pointing to the youth. “He was escorted here by prison guards. When I wanted to see him I had to show the guards all my possession, like I would if I were visiting a criminal, and the boy was refused a glass of water when he asked for it.”

The youths are kept locked in their cells 21 hours a day, Barnea complained. Some have been placed in solitary confinement because of bad behavior.

“The guards operate according to clear regulations,” Barnea continued. “They don’t have any other way to treat the youths. If they don’t follow the regulations, they can be charged with disobeying orders.”

However, the state maintained that the Michal Jail will solve many of the problems involved in holding the youths.

“The facility will be separate from other blocks and the youths will be provided school lessons, said the state’s representative. “The alternative is to throw them out on the street.”

Usually, the youths are kept in detention until some other framework is found for them, but most remain for at least several months in the jail.

The judges appeared to side with the state in this dispute.

“We see the state is moving towards solving the problem, even if it has been a slow process,” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said to Barnea. “Doesn’t this satisfy you?”

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch added, “The state says the facility will not be like a jail. But the Prisons Service will be responsible for it because it is responsible for all confinements.” During the hearing, attorney Yochi Gnessin informed the court that the number of asylum seekers and migrant workers who have entered Israel via the Sinai Desert has increased from 220-250 a month in 2007 to 600-1,000 this year. The highest figure of all times was recorded in April, she added.

According to Interior Ministry figures, 60 percent of the asylum seekers and migrant workers come from Eritrea and 35 percent from Sudan.

The court asked the state for an update in four months on the plans for the opening of the Michal facility and the services it will provide for the minors who will be held there.

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