(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The public debate over how high a price criminals should pay for their crimes
has always been fierce. Popular sentiment has traditionally called for handing
down sterner punishments for criminals, noted Avraham Hoffman, the founder and
former head of the Israel Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, during an interview
with The Jerusalem Post this week.
“On the other end of the spectrum,
civil rights groups want lower sentences,” he noted. “There are many contracting
pressures on the criminal justice system.”
In the midst of the ongoing
argument, Hoffman, a religious man, believes Judaism and Jewish texts provide a
clue to a solution that would be acceptable to all sides and benefit society in
every conceivable way.
He presented his ideas last month to delegates
from dozens of states at the annual conference of the International Corrections
and Prisons Association, in Singapore.
“I am talking about the philosophy
of rehabilitation. Why should we rehabilitate?” he told members of the
conference, of which he has been addressing annually for a decade. “I’ve been
talking to you for 10 years about how to rehabilitate. Now I’d like to talk
Hoffman noted that in biblical texts there are instructions
to issue proportional punishments “that have a clear beginning and an
He said the Biblical remedy for finite punishments is undermined by
the ongoing stigma faced by criminals who are released from prisons, or the
failure to help them break the crime cycle.
He cited Deuteronomy 25,
which states, “...And it shall be, if the guilty one has incurred [the penalty
of] lashes, that the judge shall make him lean over and flog him, commensurate
with his crime, in number... he shall not exceed, lest he give him a much more
severe flogging... and your brother will be degraded before your
In modern times, Hoffman said rehabilitation is the ideal way of
ensuring punishments have a clear end and criminals do not return to the life of
crime. Furthermore, he argued, “in economic terms, if you build more prison
cells, you run out of money that you need to house prisoners every
“It costs NIS 180,000 a year to house prisoners.
only costs NIS 60,000 a year to place them in a rehabilitation hostel. By
splitting a jail sentence into part prison time, part rehabilitation time, the
state can save large sums,” he said.
Beyond immediate savings, both state
and society experience a reduction in crime and a drop in the numbers of
reoffenders, Hoffman said.
“According to our polls, in Israel, 90 percent
of prisoners who do not take part in rehabilitation go on to reoffend. 60% of
those who are placed in rehabilitation programs reoffend.
“We need to
create a public atmosphere that accepts the released prisoners, and offers
social and political support for rehabilitation,” Hoffman said. “It is the most
effective solution for the justice system, morally and
Hoffman said he witnessed an impressive rehabilitation
program in Singapore, a state known for its ultra-harsh justice
“They have a program called Yellow Ribbon, named after the symbol
used by wives and girlfriends waiting for their partners to be released,”
The initiative is aimed at assisting 9,000 ex-offenders,
and is driven by the same vision that led to the creation of Israel’s Prisoner
Rehabilitation Authority, he noted.
In Israel, the largest obstacle to
rehabilitation was government budgetary constraints, Hoffman said.
increase in investment would result in huge savings, he said he believes, both
in financial and human costs.