The holding cells in Jerusalem's Russian Compound are hot and humid, the steam from the showers mixing with the cigarette smoke and the sultry summer air. In about three years, this highly criticized detention facility will be shut down. The entire compound - which now houses the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court and Central District police headquarters - is to be returned to the Russian government.
In a rare move, Israel Prisons Service opened the facility to a visitor this week, partly due to criticism the detention center has received in the wake of two detainee suicides in recent months.
The facility was transferred to the IPS as part of a move to give it responsibility for all prisoners. When police ran the facility, journalists were barred from observing the very poor conditions that human rights and medical organizations had been protesting for years.
IPS officials who first saw the facility for themselves about 18 months ago were shocked by the conditions.
"I couldn't go in," maintenance worker Tzion Biton, who worked for 20 years at the Ayalon Prison, said. "The stench was impossible. We used 200 gallons of bleach and cleaning fluids."
The IPS was reluctant to spend money on a facility that was going to be shut down, as Station Commander Menashe Nahum recalled: "There were opinions on both sides. I said, 'There's no choice, as long as people are living here then good money must be spent, even on a bad place.'"
In the past eight months NIS 4 million was spent on the crumbling structure, and another NIS 2 million will be spent in the coming year. It will go toward painting the walls, tiling the halls, renovating the cells, enlarging the canteen and renovating the visitors' rooms.