Ezra, Olmert sign private prison deal

Internal security minister and Prison Services head express their concern.

new prison 298  (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
new prison 298
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Finance Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday signed a contract allowing for the establishment of the first privately-owned and operated prison in Israel. In November, Africa-Israel Investment and Minrav Engineering and Construction jointly won a government tender to build and operate a private jail south of Beersheba and expected to open its doors in 2009. But alongside the celebratory signing of the contract on Monday, Ezra and head of the Prisons Service (IPS) Ya'acov Ganot could not hide their concerns of the consequences of having civilians run a prison. "I am concerned," Ezra said frankly at the signing. "There is not doubt that there are financial considerations involved in the companies decision to open a jail and sometimes you try and save money but if you save money in the wrong place it can backfire like a boomerang." Ezra added one last tip and told Africa Israel CEO Pini Cohen: "Just make sure you hire the right people to run the facility." The construction of the new prison will cost the companies an estimated NIS 200 million, but according to Treasury officials, it will save the government NIS 350 million. Cohen said that alongside the business venture, Africa Israel viewed the investment as a contribution to society. He expressed hope that the new prison would succeed in educating criminals and preventing them from returning to crime following their release from jail. "We will establish several factories in the prison so the prisoners can make money and support their families while carrying out their sentences," Cohen said. "We will also offer education programs inside the jail so the prisoners will come back to society as educated people." Cohen also said that the companies planned to hire former IPS officers and guards to run the prison. Africa-Israel has hired Emerald - a US-based company which operates six prisons with a total of 5,000 inmates - as a consultant to the project. Meanwhile Monday, Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi inaugurated a new Police Investigations and Intelligence Department school in Holon. The school will train police investigators and will try and create a "common language" between the different investigative fields including forensics, intelligence and investigations. During a tour of the new facility, Karadi told reporters that according to internal police surveys, the public's feeling of security severely deteriorated over the past year. "The police force will not stay quiet during 2006 until we improve the situation," he promised.