14-year-old Israeli Boy Sent to Prison Because All Rehabilitation Facilities for Minors Are Full

Teenager accused of attempted assault is one of 88 minors waiting for spot at an institution ■ Supreme Court criticizes government

A prison in central Israel.
Olivier Fitoussi

A 14-year-old boy was sent to prison for five months in the Ofek youth prison because of a lack of room in rehabilitation facilities for minors. In a ruling handed down last week in the boy’s case, the Supreme Court ordered him left in detention – but at the same time criticized the government.

Supreme Court Justice Yael Willner said that sending minors for detention in the prison “could thwart the possibility they would return to the straight and narrow path and become good citizens.” The Public Defender’s Office said that as of now, 88 youths are waiting for an open spot in the institutions for rehabilitating youths.

The teenager, A., was arrested in April and indicted for attempted assault and threatening violence. The court and prosecutors agreed that during the legal proceedings he would be placed in a rehabilitation hostel of the youth protection services in the Social Services and Social Affairs Ministry instead of in a prison detention center. But because of the shortage of places he was sent at the end of April to Ofek Prison.

At a hearing on his case last month, Juvenile Court again ordered the probation service to examine the possibility of finding an alternative to prison for A. because of his personal circumstances. The probation service decided that the closed Gilam hostel for juvenile offenders could be appropriate – but the facility was full. A. remained in detention and the probation service told the court that he must wait until September for an open spot in the hostel.

A.’s lawyer, Rotem Seri from the Public Defender’s Office, said it was unacceptable for a boy to remain in prison only because no institutions were available to accept him. “In light of the harsh circumstances of his life, the lack of family support and his need for treatment – the relevant authorities must be ordered to find a temporary solution for him until he can be placed in an alternative to long-term detention appropriate to his needs,” she said.

After the decision was appealed in Supreme Court, Willner ordered A. last week to remain in detention – but criticized the government for the lack of facilities for him. She said the shortage of places in closed institutions used as an alternative to prison for youths who became involved in crime was regrettable. “In most cases these are minors whom life has not been good to, and leaving them behind bars only worsens their difficulties.”

Willner said that the courts have called many times in the past for the relevant authorities, such as the Social Services Ministry, to take action on the matter. The country “cannot allow itself to miss the opportunity to return to the bosom of society a youth who one day can change his habits and become a functioning citizen instead of a criminal and prisoner,” she added.

Youth protection institutions have been on the verge of collapse for a number of years, and have long waiting lists and a regular shortage of places. The legal aid department in the Justice Ministry has even petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Social Services Ministry because it cannot find places for the rehabilitation of hundreds of youths at risk who have been removed from their homes.

In December 2017, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz announced that after three decades in which the government had privatized the hostels of the youth protection services, the state would nationalize them to prevent their collapse – but not a single such institution has been nationalized since and the plan was abandoned.