An Anti-social Ruling

For years, we have been complaining about the disgraceful situation in our prisons. Every now and then, reports are published that remind us how wretched the prisoners' situation is.

We weep (crocodile tears?) because some of them are confined to cells unfit for human habitation. Six prisoners share a 12-square-meter cell with a stinking toilet facility in the corner. Some sleep on the floor in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Some of the facilities date back to the Turkish and British eras, and some prisons have become universities for crime due to the lack of rehabilitation programs.

All this has gone on for decades under strictly public management, with no privatization, no economic considerations and no profit - just the way Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wants it. The benevolent state is the one running the prisons in this way, the one that day after day, year after year, violates the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.

Therefore, the High Court of Justice got it wrong. The one that is "unconstitutionally infringing the human rights of freedom and dignity" is the state, not the privatization plan.

Beinisch acknowledged that the idea of setting up a private prison stemmed from the desire to improve prison conditions. Nevertheless, she wrote, the main objective is to save sizable sums of money.

So what's the great crime? The plan both improves prisoners' conditions and saves the state money. The justices think that is impossible, because they come from the hard core of the fat, wasteful public sector. Someone should explain to them that due to the public sector's astonishing inefficiency, the service provided by the state can be greatly improved by privatization while also saving a great deal of money. But the High Court has no money problem. It has no budgetary limitations.

The truth is that the state has not ceded any right or power by asking a private entrepreneur to build the prison. The state intended to supervise the private prison closely, much more closely than Prison Service prisons. It specified the concessionaire's obligations in hundreds of pages, including room size, bed quality, amount of food, number of calories, study hours, sports hours, rehabilitation programs, penalties, etc.

The conditions stipulated by the state for prisoners in the private prison are immeasurably better than those provided in state prisons. In the private prison, every prisoner's living area would have been larger. There would have been more showers and more hours of vocational training. On top of that, the concessionaire was to allow family visits five days a week - far more than the norm in the state's compassionate prisons.

The verdict is a severe blow to prisoners, because the private prison would have set new norms, thus raising the standard in all Prison Service facilities.

What luck that one of the nine justices understood the issue. Justice Edmond Levy preserved at least a small measure of the High Court's dignity.