Bill Seeks to Set Maximum of Four Beds per Prison Cell

Currently, 75 percent of those incarcerated in Israeli jails live in cells with between five and 20 beds.

The Public Security Ministry is preparing a revolutionary new bill to enshrine in law various conditions for prisoners, including the right to medical attention and a bed, many of which are currently governed only by regulations or accepted procedures and sometimes vary from one jail to the next.

“A country is measured by the way it treats its prisoners, and therefore we need better incarceration facilities,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who sponsored the bill, said yesterday. “The Israel Prison Service is almost poverty-stricken, operating far from the spotlight. Its work should not pushed into the state’s backyard.”

prisoner - Tomer Appelbaum - November 1 2010
Tomer Appelbaum

One area the bill aims to improve is overcrowding.

It sets a maximum of four beds to a cell, with prisoners receiving no less than 4.5 square meters of average space.

At the moment, 75 percent of those incarcerated in Israeli jails live in cells with between five and 20 beds, according to figures presented by Aharonovitch and Israel Prison Service Commissioner Benny Kaniak at yesterday’s cabinet meeting.

The standard in many Western prisons is to house no more than one prisoner per cell.

But while giving prisoners more space would benefit them, it would make overcrowding an even bigger problem for the Prison Service, which is already running out of room.

If current trends continue, there will be a shortage of 3,400 spots in prison by 2017.

Perhaps that is why the Prison Service is expected to receive an injection of state funds if the law is passed.

The cost of incarceration in Israel is currently NIS 93,975 per prisoner per year, or approximately $26,100 − more than the annual cost in the United States ‏($22,600‏) but significantly less than in England ‏($65,000‏), Canada ‏($80,000‏) or Australia ‏($90,600‏).

If passed, the law is expected to lead to a rise in the number of petitions to the courts that prisoners file over sub-standard conditions.

In addition to stipulating the amount of beds per cell, the bill also states that prisoners are entitled to proper sanitary conditions ensuring their ability to maintain personal hygiene and to any medical attention the prison doctor says they need. The bill would also see to it that prisoners get a bed, mattress and blanket, as well as a table and a place to store personal belongings.

Prisoners would also be entitled to reasonable light. Cells would have to either have a window for outside ventilation or alternative suitable ventilation.

Each cell would have to have a sink and toilet, and the law would require that the toilet be separated from the living area of the cell. If prisoners do not have a shower in their cell, there must at least be enough showers for all prisoners, who would have the right to a hot shower every day.

The bill also states that prisoners have the right to a daily walk outside, although this right is subject to restrictions, and that they must receive at least three nutritious meals a day.