New report reveals harsh conditions in Israeli jails

New report reveals harsh conditions in Israeli jails

Public Defender’s Office finds widespread overcrowding, inadequate access to medical care and poor conditions at most facilities

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a guard in an Israeli prison (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of a guard in an Israeli prison (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Rampant overcrowding, bug-infested cell blocks, unlawful solitary confinement and limited access to health care are just some of he findings revealed in a government report on the conditions in Israel’s prisons and detention centers released Sunday.

The annual report, published by the Justice Ministry’s Public Defender’s Office, reveals that the widespread overcrowding has resulted in Israeli inmates receiving less than one third of the cell space allocated to the average prisoner in the West.

Although Israel Prison Services regulations stipulate that each prison cell house no more than four inmates, prison officials noted that in the vast majority of the 38 facilities visited, five to eight inmates were housed in each cell. The report found the average living space per prisoner was two to three square meters, compared to 8.8 square meters of cell space given to inmates in Western countries.

According to the report, most of the inmates in isolation units are confined for 23 hours a day. In some cases, the conditions were described as “inhumane,” with inmates having no access to educational or rehabilitative programs. Many inmates said that while in isolation, they were rarely given access to visit with prison social workers.

The report noted numerous complaints by inmates in the Ayalon Prison regarding the quality and availability of the facility’s medical services. Inmates said the prison’s one doctor was rarely available, and many reported they never received treatment or medication prescribed to them even if suggested by a outside doctor or specialist.

Ayalon’s Prison warden told officials compiling the report that there was only one doctor to treat over 300 inmates, and many of the inmates suffered from chronic illnesses, resulting in long wait times.

An HIV-positive inmate in Hadarim prison said that after the initial round of treatment, he did not receive any further medical attention.

Officials also found that mentally ill inmates were being kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time and were not given access to medical services. In the Neve Tirza Women’s Prison, for example, most of the inmates in isolation suffer from psychiatric issues and require hospitalization. However, a lack of IPS medical facilities for women means that many of the convicts remain locked up.

The report also revealed that across the board, isolation cells were largely neglected and dirty and had broken tiles, peeling wall paint, cockroaches and bedbugs.

In one incident, an inmate with scabies was isolated from the prison’s general population to prevent the spread of the contagious skin disease. The inmate was found without a sheet, towel or change of clothes.

One transgender inmate was kept in isolation for over four months without legal justification. The prison warden told officials the woman was being held separately from the general prison population since she had yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

In the youth wing of Ofer Prison, representatives of the Public Defender’s Office observed that inmates in isolation were not integrated into educational or rehabilitation programs and rarely met with social workers.

At Ofer, two minors incarcerated for security offenses were kept in their cells 23 hours a day and had no access to the prison activities. The inmates told officials they were “about to go mad from boredom.”

“Eight detention facilities visited by officials from the Public Defender’s Office were found to keep inmates confined in harsh conditions,” the report said. “In most cases, the inmates held in isolation were there due to their mental state, which does not legally justify isolation.”

In its response to the report, the IPS acknowledged the shortcomings of many of its facilities, and said the agency was “investing resources into planning for the improvement of the conditions of all prisoners.

“It’s very well known that some prisons are old and require extensive renovation. The IPS agrees that many facilities need to be rebuilt, but that would require a budget allocation that is not currently available to us.”

However, a report in Haaretz last month notes that during a Knesset hearing on November 2014, IPS representatives said they were renovating just three prison wings at a cost of NIS 15 million.

In response, a number of High Court justices said the planned IPS renovations fell short.

“How come we are not hearing of this [overcrowding] sooner?” Judge Zvi Zilbertal asked. “Why are you continuing to take prisoners without having the allocated living space?”

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