Knesset c'tee head calls for more transparency in cases of prison deaths

22,000 prisoners live in 33 prisons; About 17,000 new prisoners and detainees are taken in yearly; roughly 4,000 have chronic diseases.

Man in prison 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Man in prison 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Physicians who work for the Prisons Service should get bonuses just as doctors who move to the periphery to work do, Knesset State Control Committee chairman Amnon Cohen said on Wednesday.
Cohen also demanded that families of prisoners who died while incarcerated should be informed of the causes of death.
The Prisons Service gives the relatives of prisoners who died minimal information on the circumstances of death, he said, speaking during a meeting of the committee.
The quality of medical treatment in the prisons also should become transparent and under public discussion, Cohen said.
More money should be invested in rehabilitation and education of prisoners, said the committee chairman, who called on State Comptroller Joesph Shapira to investigate these matters. The comptroller said his office had already started to do so.
Prisons Service commissioner Aharon Franco said his organization is open to all criticism, because “we have nothing to hide. We spend every year some NIS 19 million on medical care for prisoners. But I invite the Health Ministry to get involved and observe our activity. Our physicians are very professional and independent, and they decide on medical issues rather than the commanders,” Franco said. As there is a shortage of doctors in the whole country, including in the Prisons Service, he invited physicians to join the ranks.
Warden Ofra Klinger, head of the service’s prisoners’ division, said that 22,000 inmates live in 33 prisons. Every year, about 17,000 prisoners and detainees are taken in, she said. The cost of hospitalization, medications and treatment is covered by the Prisons Service budget. “There were cases in which we failed in providing details on the cause of death of prisoners who died in prison,” she conceded. Families cannot receive the whole report but only certain details.
Illnesses are more common among prisoners than in the general population, Klinger continued, because many of them are addicted to hard drugs and alcohol. Some 4,000 are recognized as having chronic diseases, and some of them receive their first medical treatment when they are incarcerated.
Medical specialists from hospitals visit prisons and examine those prisoners who need it, she said.
Deputy Warden Ehud Halevy, explaining why complete medical reports are not provided to families or civil rights organizations, said the service fears lawsuits against doctors. We leave internal conclusions to ourselves, but we still are sued all the time,” he added.
Prof. Rifat Safadi, head of the liver unit at Hadassah University Medical Center, said a new international study showed that 28 percent of prisoners around the world suffer from hepatitis B or C infections that can lead to chronic illness and even death. He called for urgent examination of Israeli prisoners using a simple blood test to identify and treat such disease carriers.
While the Prisons Service is improving, said MK David Azoulay, “I am very worried. Reports on causes of death in prison are sent to the comptroller in the Public Security Ministry – who is not a doctor. They should be sent to outside physicians for assessment so there will be more transparency.”
Health Ministry representative Victoria Wexler said it works in coordination with the Prisons Service, visits its medical centers and clinics and follows up the work of dialysis and psychiatric units. But the ministry is willing to participate in the investigation of prisoners’ deaths. As this occurs to some 30 prisoners annually, it will be a full-time job for a ministry employee, and the ministry does not have such a manpower slot or budget for this, she said.