Petitioners plead against prison privatization

Last brief before High Court ruling says state abdicating its responsibility to govern.

nachshon prison (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nachshon prison
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Fifty-four percent of the public opposes the privatization of prisons, while 23% favors the move, according to an independent public opinion survey, petitioners told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday. The petitioners - the Human Rights Section of the Ramat Gan Academic College of Law, retired prison warden Shlomo Tweezer and prisoner Yadin Machnes - presented the poll's findings before the court in a final brief before the court's ruling on prison privatization is due. The petitioners are asking the court to overrule a Knesset law passed on March 31, 2004, which paved the way for the establishment of a privately built and administered prison. On January 2, 2006, the government awarded the tender to Africa-Israel Investments, Ltd., owned by businessman Lev Leviev. Leviev owns the controlling interest in the enterprise in a consortium including Manrav Engineering and the American company Emerald Correctional Management. According to the tender, the consortium was to build an 800-prisoner facility near Beersheba and run it for a period of up to 25 years. The estimated cost of the facility was NIS 250 million, of which a grant of NIS 47m. was to be provided by the state. Afterwards, the consortium was slated to be paid a sum of money for each prisoner it held. The prison is already under construction. On March 16, 2005, the law college and Tweezer petitioned the High Court, charging that the law permitting a private prison contradicted the Basic Law: Government and the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. They argued that the government was abdicating one of its core responsibilities by permitting a private prison and that by giving a private company the right to discipline and punish prisoners, it was violating inmates' basic rights. The High Court decided to turn the case into a fundamental discussion of how far the state could go in privatizing services before it violated its constitutional obligation to govern the country. In their final brief, the petitioners wrote that because no clear limit had been set to privatization of government services since the petition was filed, there had been a "spillover effect," whereby "the [transfer] of authorities of a governing nature had intensified and increased over the past two years." Among the examples indicating the scope of the privatization trend, the petitioners cited the Finance Ministry's consideration of spending NIS 51m. to hire workers registered with private manpower companies for the Israel Police. There had also been an attempt to privatize the employment of police cadet instructors, the petitioners said. The petitioners warned that if the trend of privatization continued, Israel could wind up following in the footsteps of the US which, it wrote, currently has 168,000 soldiers and 182,000 private employees deployed in the war in Iraq.