Israeli Suicidal Woman Arrested Instead of Hospitalized

Social services can’t place her because of behavior problems; attorneys say prison makes no sense.

Shirly Seidler
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A psychiatric hospital near Haifa.Credit: Doron Golan
Shirly Seidler

An Ashkelon woman with suicidal tendencies was placed under arrest because the social services couldn’t find her a place in an institution or some other rehabilitation framework.

The woman, 24, was recently arrested after attempting suicide three times by jumping into the road. Her sister said she has behavior problems but doesn’t want to commit suicide, only to draw the attention of social services so that they put her in a suitable framework.

The woman had been interned in three different institutions but taken out due to unfitting conduct. Since then the social services haven’t found a suitable place for her. Her sister said that when the family went to the city’s social services to see about treatment for her sister, the woman was taken out of the building by security guards.

The Ashkelon municipality denied this. But the city also said that social services have known about the woman for years.

“During 2012 there were several attempts to put her in three rehabilitative programs,” an official said. “She was ejected from all of them because of her refusal to fit in. Her objection is reflected in serious behavioral problems and endangering herself and her surroundings.”

About two weeks ago the woman ran into the road and lay down, seemingly trying to kill herself. The police arrested her for public disturbance.

She was then indicted for being a “public nuisance” and “disturbing or holding up traffic.” After being held in the Ashkelon jail for several days, she was released under restrictions to her sister’s house.

The woman then tried to end her life again. She was arrested again and transferred to the Neve Tirzah prison.

Her attorney, Haim Mekler of the Public Defense Office, says the case is problematic because criminal law cannot deal with it. The case must be handled by the social services, he said.

“All the relevant authorities are evading responsibility and not taking care of her,” Mekler said. “The district psychiatrist didn’t diagnose her as ill and she can’t be sent to an institution because she’s already been there and taken out. It’s a gray area and she falls between the cracks.”

The woman receives an allowance for 100 percent disability. She was taken out of the three institutions she had been interned in for breaking equipment, climbing to the roof and harassing other patients. Over the past year she has been looked after by her sister, who is two years older and does not work. The sisters’ father died a few years ago, their mother left home and the rest of the family members are not aware of the problem.

“It’s a very problematic situation,” says public defender Nati Lagmi. “Obviously arrest isn’t the way to handle the situation and she’s not supposed to be there. There’s a problem with people in her condition, who are not defined psychotic but suffer from a personality disorder. She needs treatment, not a criminal’s stigma, because she’s not a criminal.”

Ashkelon Magistrates Judge Sabin Cohen extended the woman’s custody at a recent court hearing, saying that while the arrest was not “an ideal solution there is no alternative.”

“I believe there is no other way but to put her under arrest, but she is dangerous mainly to herself, and clearly the solution is in supervision,” she ruled.

The detainee’s sister said she was incapable of taking care of her.

“The social services are refusing to take care of her, they’ve given up,” she told Haaretz.

“”My sister herself doesn’t know what she wants, so the professionals don’t know what to do with her. She asked to be put in a rehabilitation hostel, but they told her it was unsuitable,” she said. “I can’t look after her. In the past year she hasn’t been in any framework, all day at home and it’s driving her crazy,” she said.