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The number of incarceration orders issued by the Bailiff's Office has almost doubled in the past seven years, according to figures presented by the Prisons Service and the police to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee yesterday.

In 2007, the Bailiff's Office issued 195,600 incarceration orders and 800 writs of habeas corpus, as opposed to 68,700 incarceration orders and 32,800 writs of habeas corpus in 2000. Since 1999, the number of incarceration orders has tripled.

With regard to the reduction in the issuing of writs of habeas corpus, committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) said in response that they should be further reduced, and "used only when no appropriate alternative can be found."

Ben-Sasson said he supports renewing the practice of bringing the debtor before the registrar of the Bailiff's Office instead of issuing an incarceration order, and also to limit the use of incarceration orders to only cases of debts over NIS 100,000. He noted that the Knesset had recently given the Bailiff's Office a number of tools to deal with the tendency not to discharge debts, as an alternative to jailing the debtor.

The Knesset committee heard these figures during its discussions of reforms to the Bailiff's Law, in preparation for the amendment's second and third reading, which it is expected to conclude during the Knesset's winter recess.

The committee decided to insert a requirement in the amendment that banks arrange alternative housing for debtors who default on their mortgages and are evicted from their homes.

Scare tactics

A primary argument against incarceration orders for debtors is that they are only used to scare people into paying their debts. In fact, only 650 people (representing 0.3 percent of the incarceration orders) were actually jailed in 2007 due to non-payment of their debts.

Out of the 195,600 incarceration orders in 2007, only 74,300, or 38 percent, were implemented. The rest were canceled, either because the order was withdrawn or the order could not be delivered. Almost 57,000 people who were ordered jailed (28 percent of the total incarceration orders) were ordered to appear before the registrar of the Bailiff's Office. Twelve thousand people (seven percent) paid their debts after the police came to their home, and another 2,000 (one percent) after they were arrested.

In 2007, 372,4000 requests for incarceration orders were made. Thus the 195,600 orders issued represent only a little more than half of the requests. Tel Aviv saw the largest numbers of requests for incarceration orders - 104,000, or 28 percent of the total.

Ruth Sinai adds: Israel is one of the only Western countries in which a person may be still jailed for defaulting on debts.

The state has opposed attempts to change the law in recent years, arguing that incarceration orders are an efficient debt-collection tool. However, figures show that despite doubling incarceration orders since 2000, debts have not been reduced.