Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided Friday to release some 500 prisoners to house arrest in an effort to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in prisons, his office said.
Erdan accepted the recommendation of acting Israel Prisons Service chief Asher Vaknin to let prisoners who are close to release go home for a period of 30 days.
The decision applies to Israeli residents serving time for criminal activities, and who are not considered dangerous. It also does not apply to those jailed for security or terror offenses.
Israel, like many other places in the world, is concerned about the deadly ramifications of a virus breakout in a closed prison system.
On Tuesday, Israel’s prisons were shut off from the outside world with prisoners not be able to receive visits, meet with their attorneys or go on furloughs, according to the Israel Prisons Service,
The IPS was stocking up on food, hygiene and disinfectant products, and other essential products. The IPS expected the lockdown to last for what it defined as an “extended period.”
So far, there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in Israel’s prisons. However, on March 12 the IPS said it was isolating 119 detainees and 25 staff at the Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem after an officer reported that she had been in contact with a person infected with coronavirus.
The IPS operates 33 prison facilities throughout the country with around 20,000 prisoners and 9,000 staff.
Concerns have been expressed in several countries that the virus could spread rapidly within a closed prison environment. Iran released some 85,000 prisoners this week as the number of infections and deaths in the country continued to spiral.
Brazil and Italy have both seen prison riots after officials in those countries banned furloughs due to fears prisoners could bring the coronavirus into prisons on their return.