Analysis: What rights should a security prisoner enjoy?

Yigal Amir is allowed to have offspring since his imprisonment does not preclude the right to family.

yigal amir 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yigal amir 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On March 7, 2005, the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by Yigal Amir against a lower court decision preventing him from being alone with his then-girlfriend, Larissa Trimbobler, with the apparent intention of making a child. Fifteen months later, the High Court ruled that Amir, who in the meantime married Trimbobler by using his father as a go-between, could make a child with Trimbobler by artificial insemination. It might appear that the court either changed its mind after the couple married or that it was working at cross purposes with itself. In fact, however, there is nothing contradictory in the two decisions. In last year's decision, retired Justice Mishael Cheshin did not address the question of whether or not Amir and Trimbobler could make a child together. He was only confronted with the question of whether or not the two lovers should be allowed to be alone with one another. Amir is classified as a security prisoner. In other words, he is regarded as an ongoing threat to public safety. From the beginning of his incarceration, he has been held in a solitary cell and is barred from mingling with other prisoners. Cameras installed in the cell provide 24-hour surveillance. His visiting privileges have also been restricted and he is not allowed to speak to anyone in private. Amir appealed against these restrictions and against the refusal of prison authorities to allow him certain visits. The appeals were rejected. After falling in love with Trimbobler, he appealed again for the right to spend time with her alone. Like the lower court, Cheshin's decision was based solely on security considerations. They convinced him to reject Amir's appeal. "When we take everything into account," he wrote, "Amir's past actions, his dogged determination to carry out his violent aims, the fact that he is the idol and model for extremist elements, his connections with extremist elements, the fact that he did not express regret for his terrible murder, his efforts to persuade others of the justness of his violent ways and the need to perpetrate them today as well, and, above all, the inability [of prison authorities] to keep an eye on him when [he and Trimbobler] are alone - all these facts lead us to the conclusion the Prisons Service decision not to allow Amir and Trimbobler to be alone was reasonable and correct." In her ruling on Tuesday, Procaccia focused on the question of the human rights of prisoners and the question of what constituted punishment. She wrote that the punishment handed down by the court to Amir was life in prison, no more and no less. Because of the nature of his crimes and the fact that he had not repented, he was classified as a security prisoner. This classification entails greater restrictions than those imposed on regular prisoners. Procaccia emphasized that, even though they had been put in jail, convicted prisoners continued to enjoy all of the human rights guaranteed all Israeli citizens and residents except for those rights directly related to their imprisonment. If they are classified as security prisoners, they will have additional restrictions, which, if not imposed, could grant them the opportunity to actively endanger public safety even from jail. In Amir's case, he was separated from society by being sentenced to jail, thereby losing his freedom of movement. Being in jail automatically includes other restrictions on human rights such as the right to pursue a livelihood of one's choice. It also includes restrictions required to maintain order and safety in the prison environment. Furthermore, additional restrictions could be imposed on security prisoners as long as they were justified to protect the safety of the general public. Such restrictions had been imposed on Amir, including the denial of his right to be alone with Trimbobler or anyone else. In her ruling, Procaccia took it for granted that all of the restrictions on Amir's basic rights were justified, including the right to be alone with Trimbobler. However, she wrote that all of Amir's human rights that were not lost or denied for the above reasons remained intact. The right to be a father was one of them. This right was not lost by virtue of the fact that Amir was in prison. It was not one that threatened public safety. As long as he could become a father without being alone with Trimbobler, Procaccia concluded, he still had the right to do so.