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An average of almost nine detainees a year, including 50 in the past five, have committed suicide while being held in police lockups, according to a report published by the Israel Bar on Sunday.
Attorney Benny Steinberg, who compiled the study, wrote that while preparing its annual report on the state of police lockups, the committee he heads decided to prepare a special report on the problem of suicides in police lockups in light of the high number of incidents.
Steinberg pointed out that in addition to the "successful" suicides, there were also many attempts that "fail." Between June and November this year, five detainees tried to or succeeded in committing suicide while in police custody. In June, Yitzhak Rath, a suspect in the Trojan horse affair, jumped from a third-story stairwell and was seriously injured. In September, murder suspect Eliran Golan hanged himself in his cell. Two weeks later, Vikki Knafo's son Netanel did the same. In November, Juliet Eveling hanged herself in the Abu Kabir lockup after being arrested on suspicion that she forged visas for foreign workers. In Eilat, a 48-year-old man hanged himself even though police could observe his cell by closed-circuit camera.
Steinberg wrote that research has shown that most suicides occur on the spur of the moment and that if the moment were neutralized, many of the victims who end their lives would go on living. However, the police lockups are not equipped to deal with the problem, he continued. There are no social workers, psychiatrists or psychologists available and the police are usually too busy and untrained to detect potential suicides. Steinberg found that the police do not feel that this matter is their responsibility, since detainees do not remain in lockups for long.
To cope with this problem, the Israel Bar recommended increasing public awareness of the problem, establishing a mental health system in the police department, paying special attention to drug addicts and mentally ill prisoners, allowing prisoners to see their lawyers as quickly as possible and improving overcrowded prison conditions.