Israeli prisons are overcrowded – and in response, the Prisons Service on Thursday will be releasing nearly 1,000 prisoners, some of whom are serving sentences for violent crimes. Included in the general amnesty are prisoners who received sentences of four years or less, or whose sentences were cut by parole boards and have less than four years left to serve. Security prisoners are the exception.
The 970 prisoners are being released from 29 penal institutions of all security levels. One hundred of them are Palestinian Authority residents, and two are Gaza residents, all convicted of non-security related crimes. The Prisons Authority said that they have informed local authorities about each prisoner being released in their jurisdiction, and have prepared law enforcement to ensure that they do not return to their previous criminal ways.
The release comes in the wake of a 2017 decision by the High Court that requires that inmates in Israeli prisons be provided with a minimal living space. The court gave the state a choice of building new, expanded facilities or releasing prisoners. The ruling came in the wake of a lawsuit on prison overcrowding, stating 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, a Prisons Authority 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 need to double the number of cells, with over 8,000 beds that need to be housed.”
Signing off on the order to release the prisoners was Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, but not all officials agreed with the decision. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel demanded that Erdan not release prisoners who had been convicted of acting violently to women, a call she was joined in by numerous organizations, including WIZO and Naamat.
Aryeh Bibi, head of the state Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, said that the decision was a bad one. “Statistics show that 45 percent of released prisoners return to a life of crime, in a revolving door phenomenon. That means that out of the 1,000 prisoners being released, 450 will return to crime. Of those who undergo rehabilitation, only 18 percent go back to a life of crime, but unfortunately many of the ones being released did not participate in those programs.”