Dismal prison conditions and abusive treatment of the prisoners violate human rights, according to a report published by the Public Defender's Office on Tuesday.
The PDO, as part of its annual report, visited 32 police lockups, 11 prisons and 12 courthouse jails and found that the sanitary conditions in some facilities were so poor as to endanger the health of the prisoners. Many jails were overcrowded and in some cases jailers abused and were violent towards their wards.
The only bright light in the 60-page report seemed to be that every detainee and convicted prisoner in the police lockups slept on a bed as a result of a High Court of Justice ruling. The same is not true for prisoners incarcerated in Prisons Service facilities.
"Despite the fact that detainees no longer sleep on the floor, the situation in the prison facilitiesâ€¦ is far from satisfactory," the PDO wrote in its summary.
"These are not individual flaws," the PDO wrote. "We are confronted with a national problem which leads to daily violation of the basic rights of the detainees and prisoners and injury to their human rights."
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, after receiving the report and discussing the matter with ministry Director-General Ronny Falk and other ministry officials, emphasized that the operations of the ministry and its offices - the Israel Police and the Prisons Service - were carried out while maintaining the dignity and property of those who had been arrested or distanced from society by the courts.
"The work of both the police and the Prisons Service is carried out with transparency and openness with regard to the Public Defender's Office, the state comptroller, Knesset members and the Internal Security Ministry comptroller," he said.
An additional tool for oversight and management, he said - the suggestion box for addressing the ministry comptroller - was available to all prisoners at all detention facilities.
Dichter cited the fact that the Prisons Service was facing many complex missions and highlighted the increase in the number of detainees and prisoners, both security and criminal. He also said the ministry was forced to maintain its role despite recent budget cuts that prevented the building of new facilities and the destruction of old ones.
The statement argued that in the last two years dozens of facilities were improved, and Dichter hoped that this trend would continue in coming years.
"The majority of issues raised in the report," the response said, "were corrected during the inspections and immediately afterwards together with the close oversight of the state comptroller."
The public defender's report was divided into three sections, each describing a different type of jail.
Regarding police lockups, the PDO found that jailers in Eilat chained prisoners to their beds for hours at a time as a punitive measure. One prisoner complained that he was chained to his bed with his hands handcuffed behind his back, his feet handcuffed and another handcuff linking his hands and feet. He was also handcuffed to the ladder of the upper bunk bed. He claimed he had been tied that way throughout the night without food, water or the ability to relieve himself.
In the Negev lockup, PDO examiners discovered instances of violence among minors in the special cells allotted to them. To begin with, these cells are one square meter in size and have no windows or furniture. There is also no separation between minors of different ages. In one case, a 15-year-old boy suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse for several days. His jail mates cut his hands, beat him, threatened to rape him and forced him to drink urine. Prison guards ignored his pleas to be transferred out of the cell.
In 19 of the 32 lockups examined, there was no separation between the toilets and the showers. In some cases, the shower drain also serves as the toilet drain. In eight of the lockups, detainees are either prohibited from receiving visits from family members or that the conditions in which they may see them are extremely poor.
Many of the same problems were found in the facilities run by the Prisons Service. In many of the jails, prison guards treated the prisoners brutally. In Shati Prison, for example, many prisoners complained the guards used violence against them routinely. Guards allegedly beat the prisoners with clubs or fists, kicked them, dragged them along the floor and threw them out of their beds.
In eight out of 11 prisons, some of the prisoners lived in cells which offered an average living space of only one to two square meters per prisoner. In seven out of 11 prisons, the hygienic and sanitary conditions were found lacking, in some cases to the point of genuine neglect. Walls were peeling and disintegrating from humidity and mold; showers and toilets were filthy and smelly. There were various kinds of insects and rodents in all of the wards. In several prisons, conditions for meeting with lawyers were poor. In Kishon Prison, for example, there was one meeting room for 150 prisoners. There were also prisons where drugs could be found in every ward.
For the first time, the PDO also investigated conditions in courthouse jails and found that there, too, the situation was poor. In eight of the 12 jails that were examined, investigators found that the prisoners were held for long hours in "hard and intolerable conditions." For example, in Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court, some 15 to 25 prisoners were held each day in an area providing them with 0.6 to 1.07 square meters of living space per prisoner. In seven courtroom jails, there was no separation between the toilets and the holding room. In seven of the jails, prisoners were led handcuffed through public spaces as a matter of routine, even though according to the law they were to be handcuffed only in exceptional circumstances.
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.