The average living space for each prisoner in the private prison to be built near Be'er Sheva is smaller than the norm in other countries, and even smaller than the space mandated by Israeli law, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has charged.
ACRI is demanding changes in the terms of the tender for building and operating the prison - a private medium-security facility for 800 inmates that will be under Israel Prisons Service supervision.
Supporters claim this prison will alleviate crowding in Israeli jails. Opponents worry about placing incarceration powers in private hands.
Two consortiums have bid for the tender so far - one comprises Solel Boneh, Dankner Investments and a French company named GEPSA; the other includes Africa Israel and Minrav. The winner will be selected by the end of the year and the prison will begin operating in 2008.
In numerous talks with ACRI, Prisons Service officials stressed that conditions at the private facility will be much better than at existing prisons.
"On one occasion, a Prisons Service representative even used the expression `hotel conditions,'" attorney Dori Spivak wrote this week in an urgent letter to the tender committee. But after a preliminary reading of the tender's more than 1,000 pages, obtained by ACRI after a lengthy battle and the intercession of the attorney general, "it turns out the depiction of expected conditions at the privatized prison was far from true," Spivak wrote.
"A problematic and troubling figure jumped out at us," he said, referring to the cell space for housing four inmates that was set at 16.5 square meters, which amounts to 4.125 sq.m. per inmate.
At a Knesset hearing last month, Prisons Service Commissioner Yaakov Ganot reported severe crowding in Israeli jails, with each inmate allocated on average 3.4 sq.m. Inmates in Spain receive 10 sq.m. each on average, while in Western Europe as a whole the average cell space is 6 sq.m., Ganot told lawmakers.
In his letter, Spivak notes that the European commission responsible for implementing the European Convention Against Torture had ruled the suitable living space per prisoner between 9 and 10 sq.m. The recommended cell space in the United States is at least 5.5 sq.m.
Israeli law stipulates 4.5 sq.m. per detainee under remand. Spivak says a minimum 6 sq.m. should be allocated to prisoners, or 24 sq.m. for cells housing four inmates.
The Finance Ministry said in response that Spivak's claims are based on incorrect figures. The tender calls for a single-inmate cell measuring 6.8 sq.m; for two - 10.5 sq.m.; for three - 14 sq.m.; and for four - 16.5 sq.m. Since the tender stipulates that the average number of inmates per cell will not not exceed three, the average space per inmate is 4.66 sq.m., not 4.12 sq.m.