Despite Court Order, Israel Kept Autistic Man in Jail for Lack of Alternative Arrangement

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Abu Kabir detention center in Tel Aviv.
Abu Kabir detention center in Tel Aviv. Credit: Moti Milrod

A young autistic man who was arrested for assault on Sunday remained in a Tel Aviv lockup for a day and a half because it wasn’t possible to find an institution that would accept him so he could be released. Finally, close to midnight on Monday, the court agreed to release him to a temporary shelter.

The suspect, who is defined as requiring support, was arrested after the institution he lives in said he assaulted two counselors and threatened its director. As per regulations, he was questioned by a special investigator, and the investigating team concluded that his behavior necessitated his remaining detained. He was kept overnight through Monday morning in the Abu Kabir lockup in Jaffa to await his detention hearing.

Police on Monday asked to extend his detention by four days. “Detention puts his life at risk,” his attorney, Shmuel Flishman from the Public Defender’s Office, told the court. “I don’t know what they’ll do to him in Abu Kabir.”

Reports by the Public Defender’s Office have established that disabled people are especially susceptible to physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse and exploitation by fellow prisoners or guards. They are also more likely to commit disciplinary infractions and be punished because they have trouble adjusting to the rules and crowded, unfamiliar conditions.

Judge Anat Yahav agreed to keep him away from his institution for 30 days, but otherwise agreed with Flishman, saying “the suspect shouldn’t spend even a single minute in a lockup.” However, that decision, rendered at 10 A.M., was conditioned on finding an appropriate institution to accept him for the short term.

Flishman tried to find someone to take responsibility for the suspect, but found dead ends everywhere. The suspect’s mother, who is his legal guardian although she never sees him, refused to take him in, nor were any other relatives willing. When the welfare office in Bat Yam finally picked up the phone, the social worker there said he couldn’t find the suspect a proper institution. The lawyer himself suggested that he take responsibility for the suspect and put him on a bus to stay with a friend of Flishman’s who was willing to take him in until some other arrangement could be made, but the judge categorically rejected that suggestion.

“Every possible bureaucracy failed and collapsed here,” Flishman said. “The police, who arrogantly sought to extend his detention, the welfare officials in Bat Yam who preferred to have dinner and the legal system that wasn’t smart enough to accept my simple suggestion.”

On Monday evening, with the help of social worker Dr. Gili Tamir, who advises the Public Defender’s Office, an institution was found that would accept the suspect for a few days until a more stable solution could be found. But the head of the Disabilities Administration in the Social Affairs Ministry refused to approve the transfer.

An hour later, a hostel run by the Echpat nonprofit association in Tel Aviv, which provides help to homeless people, agreed to accept the suspect. With the help of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Aid office, the Public Defender’s Office asked for the court to revisit the case and immediately release the suspect from his cell. At 11:30 P.M. Yahav agreed to release him, and set a deadline of 10 days for finding him a more permanent arrangement.

The police said Tuesday, “The suspect was arrested following reports of threats and property damage. In one instance he went crazy with knives, threw furniture at one of the counselors and hurt other people, employees and residents. He was questioned in a manner that totally upheld his rights, and the court ordered social services to find him suitable alternatives to detention, which unfortunately didn’t happen until last night.”

The Social Affairs Ministry said, “From the moment the court decided to release the resident to a different institution from the one he’d come from and that was suited to his complex treatment, the professionals made utmost efforts to find him a place that could meet his needs for the long term. We are working in every way possible to find a new placement during the next two days, and meanwhile a temporary place was found to which he was released.”

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