High court keeps pressure on state to release prisoners, make cells larger

The decision will place intense pressure on the entire police force and the prison system so that cell space will become compliant with international standards.

By
November 2, 2018 03:15
2 minute read.
INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week.

INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week.. (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)

The High Court of Justice kept pressure on the state Thursday, calling to release more prisoners and make cells larger for the majority of those who remain behind bars.

The decision will place intense pressure on the entire police force and the prison system so that cell space will become compliant with international standards.

In June 2017, former justice Elyakim Rubinstein announced during his retirement ceremony that the state would need to rectify the lack of sufficient space for prisoners by January 2019. According to international norms, the law requires 4.5 sq.m. per prisoner per cell, however, in many cells, prisoners have less than 3 sq.m.

In March, the state formally requested the High Court grant it a nine-year extension, until 2027, to give each prisoner a minimum of 4.5 sq.m. of cell space. Thursday’s decision rejected the state’s request for such an extension, granting a shorter one until April 30, 2019. This included a final extension to May 2, 2020 in order to fully comply with international law.

For the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) detention cell size, where most detainees spend a more limited amount of time, the court granted a special extension until May 2021.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, filed the petition in 2014, praising the High Court for sticking to its gun on the issue despite heavy pressure from the state. But back in March, it slammed the state’s request for more time, saying: “The state continues to disregard prisoners’ rights and intends to arbitrarily ignore the ruling of the High Court.”

Trying to justify the long extension request, the state said that a recent government decision authorized NIS 2 billion over nine years to build new facilities and address other issues as part of a total NIS 2.8b. allocation. Moreover, the state said it would need to make a long-term revision of detention policies so that fewer persons were detained in general. This could take additional time.

The state plans to pass an emergency law to allow a large number of prisoner discharges, in order to start reducing the total number of prisoners held in the short term. It also notified the court that the cell space issue had already been addressed for around 1,800 out of the 6,000 cells and that 823 new proper-sized cells would be built by 2019.

In July, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee reached a dramatic compromise to reduce the number of prisoners behind bars and the length of various prison terms. This was part of a broader effort to alleviate the stress on the system and to address legal requirements.

There has been significant controversy over what extent fast-track releases would apply, especially to those who were accused of terrorist or nationalist-motivated crimes.

Overall, it appeared that the High Court believes that the best way to get the state to move forward on this issue is to keep the pressure on, including requiring quarterly reports on its progress.


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