An Injustice to Inmates

The moment Haim Glick heard the High Court of Justice ruling blocking privately run prisons, he felt a great injustice had been done to prisoners here and to Israel as a whole.

Haim Glick has no peace of mind. The moment he heard the High Court of Justice ruling blocking privately run prisons, he felt a great injustice had been done to prisoners here and to Israel as a whole. "It's a populist decision," he said angrily.

Glick, director general of Bar-Ilan University, knows whereof he speaks as former deputy Israel Prison Service commissioner and a leading figure behind the privatization effort, who wrote the tender and was responsible for overseeing the project down to the smallest detail.

"We wrote the tender over two years," he told Haaretz. "We consulted with many officials, traveled the world and learned from others." A privately run prison is hardly an Israeli innovation; such facilities exist in many democracies, including the United States, France and Britain.

Nonetheless, it seems Israel succeeded in fixing some flaws. "My condition for the Finance Ministry was that on anything related to the work of prison guards, I would have veto rights. And they agreed," Glick said. "That's why it cost so much for the Finance Ministry, because we didn't cut back on anything. In the Prison Service, I established 38 teams, which translated Prison Service instructions into a contract, so the franchisee would serve the public interest. The tender contains thousands of clauses, so how can someone say it harms human dignity and freedom?"

Glick said the franchisee faced a list of 70 violations for which it would be fined when tender specifications were not met. There is no private prison in the world with similar conditions, he said. "The concessionaire can be fined for an endless number of reasons, from the finding of a certain amount of drugs to inmates committing suicide."

But who is doing the checking, I insinuated. The franchisee may not report the discovery of drugs. "We determined that throughout the day there would be a shadow team that would walk around the facility," he answered. "They would be uniformed guards under the authority of the Prison Service. Alongside the commander of the private prison, for example, there would be a shadow commander with the rank of deputy warden, etc. That's 13 supervisors for 13 senior prison positions, while in most of the world, it's common to have only one supervisor."

As for the court ruling that a private prison could harm human dignity and freedom, Glick was ready with figures: "Open the state comptroller's 1980 report. The average space per prisoner was 2.8 square meters. Almost 30 years have passed, and the average space today is 3.2 square meters. That is an 'improvement' of 40 square centimeters, which is even below the norm set by the Prison Service itself. However, in a privatized prison, each inmate would have 5.7 square meters of space, and that's just one example of many." He noted that a special monitoring team, headed by a retired judge, would file annual reports to the Knesset Interior Committee.

"In terms of prison conditions and rehabilitation potential," Glick said, "it's doubtful whether there is a similar facility anywhere in the world."

The project aimed to create competition for the Prison Service in running prisons and raising standards at all facilities, said Glick. He added that the British prison commissioner told him that if a private facility was better for the inmate, we should learn, as they did in England. They see privatized prisons as engendering healthy competition.

The law that was passed, he said, doesn't allow an additional private facility to be built before the end of a 10-year trial, "so why didn't they at least allow that trial?" The law allowing the creation of private prisons was passed in March 2004. A year later, a petition was filed against the project. If the High Court was indeed concerned about human dignity, it could have released a ruling within six months. But the proceedings were handled abominably slowly, without considering the damage done to all those related to the project, particularly prisoners living in crowded conditions. A privatized prison had been ready to take them in for seven months."

The last deliberation on the petition was held in July 2007, and the ruling was handed down two and a half years later. In other words, the jail took three years to be built, but deliberations took four and a half years. That's not excessive? Is no harm done to human dignity when the tax payer is forced to pay massive compensation to those who built the prison?