High Court Ruling on Prisoner ‘Living Space’ A Catch-22, Officials Say

YERUSHALAYIM -
A view of the Israeli Prison Authorities Gilboa Prison, near Yezreel Valley. (Flash90)

If the government intends to follow a decision by the High Court requiring that inmates in Israeli prisons be provided with a minimal living space, the Prisons Authority will have no choice but to perform a wholesale release of prisoners, officials told the Knesset this week. The court decision from six months ago requires the Authority to institute space standards for prisoners by the end of 2018. If new prisons are not built or some other solution is not found, the Authority will have no choice but to release some 6,000 prisoners.

“But that leaves us with a major legal problem,” a Prisons Authority official told Yisrael Hayom. “We can’t release prisoners without a parole hearing or before their sentence is up.”

The court ruled in response to a lawsuit on prison overcrowding that in order to preserve human dignity and comply with international standards, each prisoner needed to have 4.5 square meters of “personal space.” Speaking to Yisrael Hayom, the official said that under those conditions, “Each 10- by 22-meter cell, the standard size cells in Israeli prisons, will be able to house just five beds, instead of the 10 we have today. That means we will double the number of cells, over 8,000 beds that need to be housed.”

The decision requires this standard to be instituted by the end of 2018, but the first milestone for the Authority comes next March — when prisoners will be required to have at least three square meters of personal space. That, too, may entail releasing prisoners early, the official said, as more than 40 percent of prisoners are housed in spaces with less than that amount of personal space.

“According to the way things are working out, we will have no way to house prisoners, and will have to release some 6,000 of them,” the official said. “But we cannot release them before their term is up. Thus we will be in a legal ‘gray zone.’ We await the advice of Justice Ministry officials on what to do when December 2018 comes, when we will have to comply with a High Court decision we are legally unable to comply with.”