The Justice Ministry has taken the side of the High Court against Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan who sought to exclude security prisoners from an order to increase the living area of inmates.
The Court pronounced that overcrowded Israeli prisons “aren’t fit for human habitation” in a ruling handed down last June.
Currently, the law requires that Israeli prisoners be provided 3 square meters (32 square feet) of space. The Court said that it must be enlarged to 4 square meters by March 2018 and to 4.5 square meters by the end of 2018. In European countries, the average is 8.8 square meters.
However, due to a lack of overall capacity, Erdan wanted to exclude about 6,000 convicted terrorists and other security-related convicts from the enlargement plan. He argued that in order to meet the Court’s timetable, the Prison Authority would have to build four new prisons, for which it does not have the funding.
But the Court did not differentiate between different types of prisoners in its ruling, and the Justice Ministry, with the approval of Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, decided that all prisoners must be included in the expansion plan.
Since new prison facilities do not seem to be in the offing, other solutions are being considered to satisfy the Court.
One possibility is to move them to tents. This has already started at the Ketziot prison in the western Negev. Another solution would be to reopen older prison wings that were shut down or asking the High Court to postpone the deadlines by a year.
Or, the state could move in the opposite direction: instead of more cells, fewer inmates. Erdan is reportedly hoping to reduce the prison population by allowing prisoners to be eligible for parole after serving only half of their sentences, instead of the current two-thirds. In addition, he has suggested more sentences to community service rather than prison terms. At present, only prisoners sentenced to terms of six months or less are eligible to do community service, and Erdan wants this raised to nine months.
Meanwhile, the relevant ministries, including Justice, Finance and Public Security, are holding consultations to devise a way forward, though as a Prison Service spokesman said, no “operative decisions” have yet been made.