Israel’s prisoners are often kept in facilities “unfit for human residence” and sometimes face illegal punitive measures such as being tied to their beds for hours or even days at a time, separation from other inmates and unjustified strip searches, according to a damning report by the Public Defense Office published Sunday morning.
The report relates to the years 2017-2018 and is based on findings gathered during surprise visits by Public Defense staff to various jails.
One of the problematic phenomena that featured in the report was prisoners being strip-searched without cause to suspect wrongdoing and without the inmates’ consent — as required by regulations — but purely as a punitive measure or “deterrent.” This was observed mainly at Ayalon Prison, where the report said it was routine.
Another illegal measure that was observed — especially at Ofek Prison, where only teenagers are jailed — was binding inmates to their beds. This was sometimes done to mentally ill prisoners instead of treatment.
At Ayalon Prison, an inmate in need of medical care was tied by all four limbs to a bed for 38 hours. At Eshel Prison and Givon Prison there were also such cases, with the prisoners having to defecate on themselves. In other cases inmates were tied with their hands above their heads.
According to Israel Prisons Service regulations, tying down prisoners is permitted only as a last resort measure to prevent them from harming others or themselves, not as punishment.
Some prisoners were held in solitary confinement in abysmal conditions, such as prison guards failing for six days to give them fresh clothes. On prisoner was sprayed with water and forced to stay in wet clothes for several days, the report said. Some inmates said the facilities were lacking, including broken toilets or windows that were sealed shut with no air conditioning in the cell.
“Two other minors said that while in solitary confinement, their mattresses were taken during the day so they were forced to lie on metal beds,” the report said.
Sanitation problems were observed in 19 prison facilities, with some wards being defined as “unfit for human residence,” including wards housing mentally ill prisoners — a state that the Public Defense Office warned could exacerbate their conditions.
Walls at Eshel Prison were moldy and crumbling, with mice and rats infesting cells. At Ayalon Prison some prisoners said they prefer sleeping on the floor because of bedbugs in the mattresses. Cockroaches and bedbugs were also found in other prisons, as were cells stinking of mold, dirt or cigarettes.
The inspectors pointed out especially bad conditions in the supervision and punishment ward of the Hadarim Detention Center, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement or with additional supervision due to suicidal thoughts. The report recommended that nobody be kept at all in that ward, which is built as a long corridor with no windows and no daylight.
The report also pointed out that in 16 cases, the space for each prisoner was less than the bare minimum of three square meters per inmate currently required by the High Court of Justice — sometimes as low as half that.
“This is a nationwide problem that causes a daily violation of prisoners’ and detainees’ basic rights and a violation of their human rights,” the report said.
In its response to the report, the prison service said a committee had been formed to enforce the regulations regarding conditions in solitary confinement. It said that as of April 30, 2019, all facilities met the current standard of three square meters per prisoner and work was being done to increase that to 4.5 square meters, which is the next step mandated by the High Court.
The prison service added that the sanitation, hygiene and pest problems were “dealt with in all the facilities,” as was the issue of illegal binding of prisoners. “Instructions on the matter were repeated,” it said.
It also said solitary confinement and strip searches were measures taken only when necessary, and that orders were repeated to prison guards in facilities where problems were discovered. Orders were also tweaked and repeated on the issue of illegal binding of prisoners, it said.