prisoner - Tomer Appelbaum - November 1 2010
A prisoner. Safadi was one of six lawyers indicted for passing messages from prisoners to Hamas activists. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Most prisoners studying for academic degrees are security prisoners, not criminal prisoners, the Israel Prison Service says.

Of the 270 prisoners studying for degrees through the Open University at the end of last year, only 60 were criminal prisoners, according to prison data.

While criminal prisoners have been allowed to study since 1978, this right was granted to security prisoners only in 1994, after a hunger strike by some of them two years earlier.

One likely reason so many security prisoners are students is that their tuition is paid by the Palestinian Authority.

In 2008, a program was launched that covers two-thirds of the cost of tuition for criminal prisoners. This subsidy is divided equally between the prison service and the Open University.

The program, which includes group meetings with university advisers who visit the prisons, sharply increased the number of criminal prisoners seeking degrees.

All courses of study must be approved by the prison service.

The most popular courses, reflecting the preferences of the security prisoners, include "Introduction to the History of the Middle East in Modern Times," "Genocide," "Basic Concepts in International Relations," "Israeli Arab Society" and "Islam: Introduction to the History of the Religion."

In 2002, the prison service tried to forbid security prisoners from taking a list of 30 courses, among them several mentioned above.

But a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel quashed the plan.

For security reasons, as well as a lack of labs and equipment, prisoners cannot study life sciences, exact sciences or computer science.