Crime Rate for Young Immigrants to Israel Twice as High as for Other Youths

Olim crime costs state hundreds of millions of shekels. New program managed to reduce recidivism by 17 percent.

A classroom in the Ofek prison for juveniles.
Nir Kafri

The investigation rate for juvenile immigrants is double their proportion in Israel’s juvenile population, according to statistics compiled by the police and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

In each of the past three years, some 2,300 police investigations were opened against immigrant minors. That was about 10 percent of all criminal investigations of minors, even though immigrants account for only five percent of Israeli juveniles.

The state spends only about 20 million shekels ($5.2 million) a year to prevent crime by immigrant youths. According to a new study, crime by immigrant youthful offenders causes hundreds of millions of shekels of damage each year.

The study, which was presented to President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday, was commissioned by the immigrant absorption and social affairs ministries, and the Yedidim social services organization. It examined the efficacy of A Second Chance (Sikuim), a rehabilitation program run by Yedidim for the two ministries.

For the purposes of the study, which was conducted by professors Avia Spivak and David Leiser of Ben-Gurion University, juvenile immigrants either immigrated to Israel themselves or were born in Israel to parents who immigrated within the past two decades. Most came either from Ethiopia or the former Soviet Union.

The study concluded that the successful conclusion of A Second Chance reduces the participant’s likelihood of reoffending by 17 percent. It also concluded, based on the assumption that each criminal will commit an average of four crimes over the course of his life, that each youthful offender costs the state about 600,000 shekels, including the direct damage of the crimes, the costs of imprisonment and the loss of income from work.

Thus the program’s success in reducing recidivism saves the state about 100,000 shekels per participant, while costing only about 10,000 shekels per person, the study’s authors said. In other words, every shekel invested in A Second Chance yields a tenfold return.

A Second Chance operates in 34 cities, and 51 percent of its budget comes from private donations. The state allocates 2.5 million shekels directly to the program, and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry contributes another 17 million shekels through its national program for at-risk youth. Between 2004 and mid-2016, a total of 5,155 teens participated in A Second Chance.

“Within a year, six police cases were opened against me,” most of them for breaking and entering, says A., a 17-year-old from northern Israel who immigrated from Russia at the age of 5 and is enrolled in A Second Chance. “I was bored and looking for excitement, and I wanted to bring home more money,” he says, adding, “My relatives and friends were also involved. It’s possible the fact that we were immigrants had an influence.”

Sara Cohen, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry’s director of social services, said immigrant youths “are especially vulnerable and have a greater chance of being at risk,” due to the clash between their culture of origin and the “customs, norms, expectations and demands” of Israeli society. This culture clash can sometimes produce “a major crisis” which could put the juvenile at risk or even result in criminal behavior, she said.

Shimon Siani, Yedidim’s executive director, said: “When a juvenile breaks the law, the entire normative environment distances itself from him and his parents. They’re isolated. For new immigrants, in many cases the parents’ helplessness is even greater; the isolation and feeling of exclusion from society exacerbate the juveniles’ situation.

“It’s good to know that the battle for every child also contributes to Israel’s economy,” he added. “We’re changing the public conversations about treating at-risk youth, from a conversation about distress and treating delinquency to one about effective social investment.”