Inside Yigal Amir and Prisoner X's Prison Cell, Which Was Designed to Prevent Suicides

The cell where Prisoner X committed suicide was equipped with state-of-the-art monitoring devices and watched 24/7. However, a determined prisoner will always be able to defeat the system.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The prison cell in which Prisoner X was held in 2010 (according to an Australian television investigative report) was an isolation cell in Wing 15 of Ramle's Ayalon Prison. It was here that the man, identified by Australian sources as Ben Zygier, was found hanged on December 15, 2010. It was the same cell that had been prepared especially for Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and where Amir was kept until he was taken out of isolation.

The cell had been equipped with special monitoring devices, with the intent of enabling the Israel Prison Service to prevent any attempt by Amir to end his own life, or attempts by others to harm him.

The isolation cell is 16 square meters in size and includes a table, chair, bed, television (when Yigal Amir was there), small bedstead and several personal items. The prison's Wing 15 is set aside for Israel's biggest criminals. In recent years, some of the criminals held in the wing included Israeli Mafia don Francois Abutbul, mobster Yossi Mosli, and others.

Amir's cell was isolated from the rest of the wing by another door that only prison wardens could enter.

The cell was under constant security camera surveillance. The wardens were instructed to report everything that happened in the cell as seen on the security cameras, and the cell was inspected every hour.

In the cell's bathroom stall and shower area - separated from the rest of the cell by a transparent door that hid the prisoner's private parts - a special camera system, called Nefesh Pe'ila (Active Person), was installed. (The system is similarto the baby monitoring systems used to prevent crib deaths.)

The monitoring system works by identifying breathing and body movement. If the system doesn’t sense any movement for 50 seconds, it turns on a warning light in the guardroom. If there is still no movement 10 seconds later, an alarm goes off and security cameras are automatically activated in both the cell and toilet.

Following several prison suicides, at the start of 2010 faucets were installed in cell walls in a manner that would prevent hanging a rope around them, and the showerhead was replaced with a flexible substitute for a similar reason.

It would be very difficult for prisoners being observed in cells with this monitoring system to take their own lives, a Prison Service source said. He added that, in the last two years, not one single prisoner who committed suicide was incarcerated in one of these cells.

The Prison Service employee did not rule out the possibility that Prisoner X had committed suicide as claimed. He noted that there had been a prisoner in Kishon Prison who had attempted to hang himself while under supervision, but that he hadn't died. Moreover, the source said that at the time that attempt was made, the observation cells were not equipped with the same technological means that were implemented in recent years.

In addition to the observation cells, there also supervised cells - known in the Prison Service as "spaceships." These are used to hold prisoners who the authorities suspect will attempt to hurt themselves. The cell is six square meters in size and lined with mattresses. It is also filmed by security cameras at all hours. The cell has no furniture besides a mattress and a squat toilet. Prisoners are meant to be kept in such cells only for several days, not for long periods of time.

Incarceration in isolation, like the seeming case with Prisoner X, is the second most common cause of suicide among prisoners. After consulting a committee composed of doctors and other professionals, prison guards usually transfer high-risk prisoners to more stringent monitoring in the "spaceship" cells. If this is indeed what happened, it is hard to understand how the prisoner managed to kill himself.

However, no precautions can prevent a determined prisoner from committing suicide, said one Prison Service source. "Even with all our care, someone who wants to do it will do it in the end," he said. “We had a woman who swallowed her underpants and suffocated; we had one who hanged himself from the railing of a bed 30 centimeters high. One prisoner took apart a radio, fastened it to his chest, plugged it in and killed himself.”

The isolation cell in which Ben Zygier, known as 'Prisoner X,' was incarcerated.Credit: Haaretz
The entrance of Ayalon Prison last year.Credit: Moti Milrod
The isolation cell in which Ben Zygier, known as 'Prisoner X,' was incarcerated.Credit: Haaretz

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