Public defender: Israeli prison conditions still insufficient

The Israeli Public Defender’s Office noted prisoners' inadequate conditions in its annual report.

INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week. (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week.
(photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
Efforts by the Prisons Service to improve prisoners’ conditions are still inadequate, the Public Defender’s Office declared on Sunday in its annual report.
“Despite efforts of the IPS [Israel Prisons Service] to improve conditions... emphasized in earlier reports, there are still... grave violations of prisoners’ rights,” read the report.
The report noted that a prisoner’s average living space is only between 2 sq.m. and 3 sq.m. compared to the 4.5 sq.m. international standard or larger in many Western countries.
Specifically, in Ofer Military Prison, up to 10 prisoners are usually held in a 21-sq.m. cell – meaning, on average, each prisoner has only 2.1 sq.m. of living space.
In the Jerusalem Detention Facility, up to eight prisoners are usually held in a 19.2 sq.m.- cell – leaving only 2.4 sq.m. of living space per prisoner.
The report noted a major victory for the Public Defender’s Office when the High Court of Justice on June 13 ordered that within 18 months, all prisoners be allotted the international standard amount of space.
Although other groups filed the petition with the High Court about the size of prisoners’ living quarters, the public defender was at the forefront of identifying and bringing attention to the issue in prior reports.
The report also addressed conditions for prisoners with emotional difficulties, noting that they are essentially punished with isolation and worse cell conditions due to concerns that they might harm themselves. Eleven prisons are overdoing their use of isolation, the report said.
The public defender said that isolation could actually increase both the likelihood that such prisoners harm themselves and that their condition deteriorate, and suggested, instead, an approach that focuses on rehabilitation.
One minor-age prisoner in Ofek Prison has been in isolation for around a month for fear he might commit suicide. Another minor-age prisoner has been in isolation for seven months because of the need to supervise him so that he doesn’t harm himself.
Even as the minors have said they prefer isolation, the report said this is not in their interest and is inappropriate.
On a related issue, the report said that “there is a shortage of treatment and rehabilitation groups for prisoners who are not Hebrew speakers and a shortage of social workers.” Both issues hamper rehabilitation efforts, the report added.
In addition, the report said that the Prisons Service overuses the tactic of tying certain prisoners to their beds and does so in an unnecessarily cruel manner.
Moreover, the report said that many prisons have extremely poor air quality, creating conditions that may harm prisoners’ respiratory health, which may be debilitating. Furthermore, the report said, medical attention in the prison system is largely inadequate.
Regarding the protection of prisoner rights, according to the report, conditions for prisoners to meet with their lawyers are inadequate.
Chief Public Defender Yoav Sapir said, “The current report presents a very disturbing picture of continuous violations of rights of detainees and prisoners and of harming the [fundamental right of] the dignity of man.”
The report also highlighted assorted hygienic problems in the prisons as well as issues with prisoners having to wait an unreasonable amount of time in temporary detention.