Israel Holding More Than 100 Prisoners, Including Minors, in Isolation Under Harsh Conditions

Figure revealed by Knesset debate held in wake of a Haaretz report on Israel's Eshel Prison; report revealed dozens held in isolation illegally in dark, damp, bug-filled cells.

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Over 100 inmates have been held in complete isolation at Israeli prisons for months or years under harsh conditions, a stormy debate in the Knesset Interior Committee revealed on Wednesday.

Most such prisoners take psychiatric pills, and there is no follow-up after their release from jail.

The inmates in isolation include 10 minors being held in juvenile facilities in either solitary confinement or two-man cells. Some of them see no one but the jailers who feed them through a window of their cell door. In seven of these cases, a judge never approved their prison conditions, which are extremely harsh.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said after the meeting that more follow-up of isolated prisoners is needed. He added that prisoners without lawyers should have public defenders at any hearing to extend their time in isolation.

The session was prompted by a Haaretz report that dozens of prisoners in Eshel Prison are being held in isolation illegally under harsh conditions.

Attorney Galia Nitzani, who conducted the surprise visit to Eshel Prison and other jails, said the absence of a lawyer affected the judge’s decision in most cases. She added that the Haaretz report has moved judges to examine requests to extend solitary confinement more carefully.

Nitzani said some prisoners spent anywhere from seven to 24 years in isolation, either in two-man cells or in solitary confinement, and that this is illegal. She said the light of day doesn’t penetrate these cells, and they are damp and full of bugs.
Throughout her speech, Israel Prison Service officials offered no refutation.

“We encountered many inmates suffering from severe psychiatric syndromes in the isolation wings,” Nitzani said.

She told of one inmate in Sharon Prison whose hands and legs were tied to his bed for five months. Prison officials claimed he was a danger to himself, she said, but there was no professional opinion to this effect.

Another prisoner, she said, was bound hand and foot in the dark. Prison officials said he didn’t want to remove the shackles, but when asked, the inmate said he did want to, but it was impossible because they had rusted.

MK Israel Hasson ‏(Kadima‏) asked the Prison Service officials whether a man handcuffed for five months ever changes his shirt or eats. They replied that one handcuff is removed for showering and dressing but then immediately replaced.

The Prisons Service said isolation is a last resort imposed only after a thorough examination, and that such prisoners make up 0.5 percent of the inmate population. “Decisions on isolation are judicial decisions or subject to judicial review,” it added.

Israeli prison.Credit: Itzik Ben Malki

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