Early Parole Bill to Ease Overcrowding in Prisons Advances, Hundreds to Win Early Release

The bill is part of efforts to meet an end-2018 High Court of Justice deadline to increase the minimum cell area for each prisoner to 4.5 square meters

An inmate at the Rimonim Prison in Israel.
\ Moti Milrod

Hundreds of prisoners are expected to win early release starting December 20 after the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee approved a bill that would free 830 prisoners by April 2019. The bill is part of efforts to meet an end-2018 High Court of Justice deadline to increase the minimum cell area for each prisoner to 4.5 square meters.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

A senior law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the effect of releasing hundreds of prisoners at once was unpredictable.

“Many prisoners will be released without undergoing, or completing, rehabilitation processes, others will lack parole supervision,” raising questions of recidivism, he said. “This is far from a perfect solution to overcrowding, but the ruling leaves us little choice,” he said.

The Knesset is expected to vote on the bill during its summer recess.

The bill would reduce sentences up to four years by up to a few months, in addition to the reduction of sentence by one-third for good behavior that a fifth of prisoners now receive. It would allow many prisoners to win parole after serving half their original sentence – the minimum for participation in the program.

Meanwhile, the plan to expand living space for prisoners was suspended on the order of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. He said Wednesday that the Finance Ministry never transferred the 60 million shekels ($16.32 million) needed for it. The Finance Ministry says it made all allocations specified by the relevant cabinet resolution.

The plan to expand cell space was included in a separate bill that was scheduled for debate in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee Thursday, with the expectation that it, like the early release bill, would advance to the Knesset for its final votes during the legislature’s summer recess. Erdan said Wednesday that he would not put the bill on the committee’s agenda.

In order to comply with the High Court ruling, the state had said it would set up seven tent compounds for security prisoners at Ketziot Prison while renovating the existing facilities for criminal prisoners. However, the Public Security Ministry claims it never got the 35 million shekels for that from the Finance Ministry.

The ministry also said the treasury failed to transfer 9 million shekels needed for a program extending to nine months, from six months, the period for which incarceration can be replaced by community service.