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President, justice minister unveil eased pardons plan for Israel’s 70th birthday

Prisoners who have served at least a third of their sentence, or are aged, sick, or disabled, could be eligible, but not those who committed serious or national security crimes

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Justice Minister Justice Ayelet Shaked during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on October 26, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Justice Minister Justice Ayelet Shaked during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on October 26, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel will institute a special broader pardons initiative for prisoners to mark its 70th year of independence, President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced on Monday.

The plan, presented during a special ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, is based on the tradition in Jewish law of making things easier for offenders who mend their ways.

Pardons will be considered for prisoners who have served at least a third of their sentence, who suffer from a serious disease, who have severe disabilities, who are over the age of 70, whose children are being taken care of by someone who isn’t a parent due to the prison sentence, who were abused by the victim of the offense, who are serving a sentence instead of paying a fine, or who are serving out a first sentence that is less than two years.

“The character of a society is gauged no less in the way it sees its prisoners and its convicts as an indivisible part of its identity,” Rivlin said. “At the chronological national milestones, we stop for a moment, look beyond the everyday, gaze upward and down to the depths, and look forward to the future.”

Rivlin explained he wants to make wider use of the presidential powers he has for the sake of mercy and kindness, and for the rehabilitation of offenders.

“I would like to see in the seventieth year of the State of Israel the opportunity to extend a long hand, a helping hand, an opportunity to stop, to look and see those who we may not routinely see,” he said.

Pardons would be dependent on the prisoner filing a request for clemency and based on careful consideration of the particulars of the case and the opinion of the justice minister. As a general rule, pardons will not be given to prisoners convicted of murder or manslaughter, security offenses, sex offenders and offenses that fall under the jurisdiction of the Military Court.

Consideration will be given to the severity of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed, the length of detention, whether it was a recurrent offense, the danger involved, behavior in prison, remorse, participation in treatment and rehabilitation processes, and the opinion of the victims of the offense where relevant.

Aside commuting prison sentences, clemency will also be considered to reduce fines as erasing criminal convictions for soldiers and those doing civilian national service.

A particular focus of the initiative will be pardoning soldiers who were convicted before their induction into the army and who are serving as part of their rehabilitation. The program aims to give pardons that would wipe clean their criminal records while removing the bureaucratic obstacles involved in filing the paperwork.

The regular presidential pardon system available for all prisoners will continue as usual.

Shaked said the 70th year of independence is an opportunity to include those who have not acted according to the law in the past.

“I hope that the gesture by the state to those criminals will help in their rehabilitation and return to the path of law and honesty.”

Regarding fines, a pardon will be considered for those over the age of 75, and those who are under guardianship, but only after exhausting all procedures at the Center for the Collection of Fines. Consideration will be given to the severity of the crime, the size of the fine, and the ability to pay it, among others issues. The option of clemency will only apply to those who are fined before the coming Independence Day on April 18, and who file for a pardon between April 20 and October 14.

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