The soldiers who ‘instruct’ troops behind bars

As the commander of the Prisoner Instructors Course, Shabtai teaches soldiers how to become military correction officers, who guard IDF soldiers in military prisons across the country.

July 11, 2018 05:15
2 minute read.
The soldiers who ‘instruct’ troops behind bars

THESE SOLDIERS are being trained to become Military Police correction officers.. (photo credit: IDF)


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“If I told people that I would enlist in the army and get to this place, they would not have believed me,” Lt. Arbel Shabtai, Commander of the Prisoner Instructors Course told The Jerusalem Post. “Let’s say that if I wasn’t in this position, I am sure that I would be in a much worse place.”

As the commander of the Prisoner Instructors Course, Shabtai teaches soldiers how to become military correction officers, who guard IDF soldiers in military prisons across the country.

“I’m seeing people who I was similar to, and to see them get to a place where they can leave prison and continue to serve the country, that does everything for me,” he said during a telephone interview.

The corrections officers, who Shabtai refers to as “prison instructors,” go through a six week long commanders course where they learn to command the prisoners under their guard before they undergo professional training and then finally sent to their assignments.

“We call them instructors because they teach the prisoners and bring them to a better place in life so that when they get out they will be in a better place, that they would be a better person” Arbel said.

During the commanders course, troops are split into two groups for a two-day workshop where they see the prison firsthand and can learn on site about the prisoners, their day to day routine and the hierarchy inside the prison.

Similar to civilian prisons, women and men are housed in different buildings and soldiers are separated inside prison based on the severity of the crime.

While the number of IDF soldiers imprisoned has declined over the years, there are some 600 soldiers currently imprisoned, and 10,240 soldiers passed through military prisons over 2017. While close to half were imprisoned for desertion and another 20% for going absent without official leave, other soldiers have been imprisoned for drug-related offenses and even crimes such as rape and murder.

In prison the prison instructors are in charge.

They tell the imprisoned soldiers when to wake up, when to eat, when they would be getting visits, even when to sleep.

While there has been a lot of criticism regarding the conditions of soldiers in military prisons over the years, Shabtai told the Post that there has been “a 180 degree shift.

Today we are on the right track for helping and teaching soldiers in prison.”

Shabtai told The Post that the prisoner instructors are like “counselors” to those behind bars, interacting with prisoners on a daily basis and provide them tools and skills for the future.

But the population is not always easy to handle, with prison instructors having to frequently deal with reservists or officers holding higher ranks than them.

“That can be something overwhelming in the beginning,” Shabtai said, adding that he instructs the prisoner instructors “not to differentiate between age and rank.”

To Shabtai, it doesn’t matter what crime the soldier committed that brought him to prison, instead what matters is when the soldier is released, he or she returns to a meaningful service.

“We see the soldier as a soldier and not as a criminal. It doesn’t matter what he did, it doesn’t interest me,” he said stressing that prisoner instructors “will put a lot of alot of work into these soldiers.”

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