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Panel on prison reform recommends some sentences be served at home

In findings presented to justice minister, inter-ministerial team suggests ‘community custody’ for shorter sentences, increasing rehabilitation programs for prisoners

Illustrative: The Israeli Prison Authorities, Gilboa Prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90/File)
Illustrative: The Israeli Prison Authorities, Gilboa Prison, February 28, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90/File)

An inter-ministerial panel tasked with finding alternative forms of correction other than keeping offenders in prison, as part of a reform to the incarceration system, presented its findings Sunday to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Among other recommendations, the panel suggested introducing so-called “community custody” that would see some offenders serve out their time confined mostly to their homes, with electronic means used to ensure they stay indoors.

Home incarceration would be used in some cases instead of prison sentences of up to about a year. Offenders would be required to participate in rehabilitation programs, community service, or even regular work, if approved by the court.

Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, who led the panel, said in a statement that he hopes the report will enable the government “to pave the way for the creation of more appropriate and tailored solutions for the rehabilitation and integration of defendants in society.”

Such a process is a “national interest,” he said.

The inter-ministerial panel also recommended improving communication between the various bodies that provide rehabilitation treatment. It called for advancing a pilot program to establish forums inside prisons tasked with preparing inmates for their release to better enable them to rejoin society. It also proposed expanding the use of transit sites, which employ a more flexible incarceration format, prior to the release of prisoners, alongside the expansion of hostels for those on parole.

The panel backed advancing restorative justice programs that focus on making offenders aware of the harm caused by a crime and taking responsibility for it, sometimes by way of meetings between offenders and their victims.

It also called for finding alternatives to jail, after indictments are filed, for those with disabilities, personality and behavior disorders, or those contending with other mental health issues, as those defendants do not fit into existing frameworks.

The panel was formed in 2016, as part of a process to implement the recommendations of a committee on punishment policy chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, and, paradoxically, set up in the wake of public complaints that sentencing was too light.

After four years of work, the Dorner Committee concluded in 2015 that harsh prison sentences not only failed to deter criminals, but actually increased recidivism, and found that rehabilitation outside of prison was cheaper and more effective.

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