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‘Direct responsibility’: Prisons Service chief blames Gilboa warden for jailbreak

Katy Perry tells commission of inquiry into Gilboa prison break that it is ‘obvious and simple’ that it was wrong to place two ‘high risk of escape’ prisoners in the same cell

Katy Perry, head of the Israel Prisons Service on January 12, 2022, and (R) Gilboa prison commander, Freddy Ben Shitrit on November 25, 2021, at a commission of inquiry probing the escape of security prisoners from the Gilboa prison, in Modi'in. (Flash90)
Katy Perry, head of the Israel Prisons Service on January 12, 2022, and (R) Gilboa prison commander, Freddy Ben Shitrit on November 25, 2021, at a commission of inquiry probing the escape of security prisoners from the Gilboa prison, in Modi'in. (Flash90)

Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry slammed Gilboa Prison warden Freddy Ben Shitrit over the prison break last year of six Palestinian terrorists, during testimony on Wednesday before a commission of inquiry probing the matter.

“It is obvious and simple not to put two prisoners who are listed as ‘high risk of escape’ in the same cell for nine months, it is the direct responsibility of the prison commander,” Perry told the commission.

The daring escape last September, which ended with the capture of the last two escaped inmates some two weeks later, has been seen as a major failure and embarrassment to Israel’s Prisons Service. The prisoners reportedly dug the tunnel for months before the prison break, using plates, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger.

“I am subjected to harsh and scathing criticism, some during a period when I was not in office,” Perry said Wednesday. “The incident at Gilboa is a serious mishap, and we have a way to go to fix it.”

At no point during her testimony did Perry take any responsibility for the jailbreak. “I took up the post after two years as acting commissioner… and two years before that, the IPS was without a stable [chain of] command. In practice, there were four years without a permanent commissioner,” she said.

Ben Shitrit claimed in November he was “marked” by Perry as “the person responsible for the incident,” and said she attempted to oust him before the event was even investigated.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Five of the six inmates who escaped were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, along with notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi.

Several had been convicted of capital crimes and were serving life terms. Four of the prisoners were captured in northern Israel within the first week, but two others made their way into the northern West Bank city of Jenin and hid out there until their arrest on September 19.

The escape exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, such as unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

During Ben Shitrit’s testimony last year about the prison break, he dropped bombshell remarks regarding allegations that officers had “pimped” out female soldiers to Palestinian terror inmates at Gilboa Prison in order to keep the prisoners happy.

Female soldiers first alleged in 2018 that they were forced into close contact with prisoners as sexual bargaining chips, leading to them being harassed and assaulted, but the case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa prison in Northern Israel, on Monday, September 6, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Since Ben Shitrit — who was not at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place — gave his testimony, calls have grown for the case to be reopened. The existing commission of inquiry said it would not investigate the claims surrounding the female soldiers.

State prosecutors have since ordered police to reopen a probe into those allegations.

Those reports alleged that an intelligence officer, Rani Basha, had placed female guards in the facility’s security wing at the request of a convicted terrorist.

In an interview with Channel 12, Basha denied the allegations, saying they “aren’t true” and that the female soldiers had in fact been “agents” tasked — with their full consent — with extracting information from the inmates. Perry last month ordered the beginning of proceedings to oust Basha.

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