(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The state agency responsible for overseeing all prisons in the country warned on Tuesday of severe overcrowding if the High Court of Justice’s ruling to expand living quarters for inmates is not implemented in the coming months.
Deeming the situation an “unprecedented crisis,” Israel Prison Services officials told Israel Hayom the state has failed to begin implementation of the court’s June decision to provide each prisoner a minimum of four square meters of cell space within 18 months.
At a minimum, the court ruling required the state to ensure all prisoners have three sq. m. of cell space within nine months. It allotted 18 months for prisons to come into full compliance with Israeli and international law.
At the time of the ruling, former deputy High Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein said unequivocally that the state was violating prisoners’ “basic rights to human dignity” by operating facilities with cells that were too small.
The Public Security Ministry conceded that it did not fully meet legal compliance.
Since then, it has filed several legal briefs updating the court, saying it has made progress addressing the shortcomings. It requested flexibility on timing to build new prison facilities with cell space of 6.5 sq. m. per prisoner by 2019.
However, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
has claimed the state is stalling unnecessarily on the expansion.
IPS officials now warn that unless living space is expanded immediately, by March, the absorption of prisoners will have to be sharply reduced. By next December, they said, no new prisoners would be able to be absorbed.
“The law-enforcement system is stalling around the implementation of the decision,” an unidentified official told Israel Hayom. “This is a national problem, and if no solution is found as of March 2018... we will begin to reduce the influx of detainees and prisoners.”
According to the IPS planning director, two-thirds of prisoners are presently incarcerated in cells smaller than 3 sq. m.
“We will not break the law,” the IPS official said. “If an investigator decides to extend the suspect’s remand, we will make it clear that we have no place and that the decision is a violation of the law. That’s it.”
During a meeting held on the subject two weeks ago, Lt.-Col. Catherine Ben-Zvi of the IPS Planning Division told committee members at least 8,000 prisoners would need to be released to comply with the court’s mandate.
“I have no legal answer to this because I cannot release them,” said Ben-Zvi, Israel Hayom reported.