Africa-Israel Investment and Minrav Engineering and Construction have jointly won a government tender to build and operate the country's first private jail south of Beersheva, the Internal Security Ministry announced Wednesday.
The facility will provide "the possibility to leave the path of crime while protecting the prisoners' rights and intelligently using advanced technologies," Africa-Israel said.
"We see our mission also as a social one. Our challenge is to rehabilitate the inmates such that fewer of them go back to jail," said Africa-Israel CEO Pini Cohen.
Citing a perennial shortage of prison space and the need to cut the Prisons Service's budget, the Internal Security Ministry expressed its satisfaction on Wednesday with the announcement of the winners of the private-prison tender.
"Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra is hopeful that the privatization plan will succeed in bringing the significant reduction in cost that is necessary," the ministry released in a statement.
Building the facility will cost the companies an estimated NIS 200 million, but once construction is completed they will receive a NIS 47m. grant, followed by a yearly operation fee of roughly NIS 64m. The companies will take up to three years to construct the facility, and will operate it under these conditions for 22 years thereafter, according to the tender. Africa-Israel and Minrav are equal partners in the project.
Once the total 25-year period is over, Cohen anticipates that a new contract will extend the companies' involvement in the project beyond the current tender period.
The prison will cover 25,000 square meters of construction on 75 dunams of state land, and will include holding cells for 800 inmates, an employment center with factories to occupy the prisoners, educational and cultural facilities, a visitors' center, and other necessary services.
Maj.-Gen. Haim Glik - head of the Prisons Service (IPS) team which oversaw the tender - emphasized that the IPS would still retain the exclusive rights to decide which prisoners are locked up in the new prison.
"The IPS will still be involved," Glik said. "The state has left in our hands the exclusive responsibility over which and how many prisoners are locked up there, the prisoner's judicial hearings and punishments, their furloughs and the number of prison visits."
Africa-Israel will benefit from the experience of Emerald - a U.S.-based private prison operator handling six prisons with a total of 5,000 inmates - which the company is retaining as a consultant to the project, Cohen said.
"Africa-Israel and Minrav see themselves as economic organizations with a social designation working together with the legal authorities, and as organizations with the mission of effectively operating the prison facility while protecting and bequeathing educational and rehabilitative tools and incentives that will enable the prisoners to integrate into society and employment once they are released," Africa-Israel said.