A Step Up for Inmates

Nothing is worse than privatization. After all, when the state offers its prisoners such superb conditions, why do we need the evil, profit-seeking free market?

Granted, there have been complaints for years about the state of our jails, and numerous committees have proclaimed prison cells unfit even for animals. Granted, six prisoners are crammed into a 10-meter-square cell with a reeking latrine pit, and some even sleep on the floor. Granted, our prisons have become universities for crime.

Yet the groups that petitioned the High Court of Justice to prevent private companies from operating prisons charge that privatization would violate the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. They seem a trifle confused: It is the existing conditions that violate human dignity and liberty.

The truth is, nothing is being privatized: The state is not ceding any rights, powers or responsibilities. It is merely enabling a private company to build a prison and run it for 25 years. In a detailed contract covering hundreds of pages, it has specified all the franchisee's obligations: the size of the cells, quality of the beds, quantity of food, number of hours devoted to exercise and study, rehabilitation programs, punishments and thousands of similar details. The conditions are far better than those in force at the state's own prisons.

The privatization model used is British, not American, so horror stories from private American jails are irrelevant. So are fears that wealthy owners will try to influence judges and politicians to stiffen sentences in order to fill the prison cells - because the owners are paid per cell, not per prisoner. But why bother reading the contract when you can simply malign it?

The Israel Prisons Service will supervise the private jails on an ongoing basis, and an advisory committee headed by a retired judge will monitor conditions and report to the Knesset. So how is the state eschewing responsibility?

The contract requires the franchisee to meet 71 parameters; if he fails to meet even one, he will immediately be liable for heavy fines and could even lose his franchise.

Moreover, the state will save NIS 320 million over the 25 years of the contract - money that is currently wasted on bureaucracy rather than being used for helping prisoners.

But none of that matters to the "social welfare" clique. What they fear is that the evil capitalists will abide by the terms of the contract, improve the prisoners' lives - and even, heaven forbid, make a little money.