Only Halfway House for Released Arab Prisoners to Close Over Budget Cuts

NGO has for three decades taken in released prisoners, both Jews and Arabs, who need rehabilitation.

The House of Grace in Haifa, Nov. 22, 2015.
Rami Shllush

Israeli Arabs who have recently been released from prison after serving time for criminal offenses, and who need rehabilitation — including for drug addiction — before reentering society could soon find themselves without it due to lack of funding.

Haaretz has learned that the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority recently informed the only halfway house for Arab prisoner rehabilitation that it would no longer be using its services, due to budget cuts.

The NGO, House of Grace in Haifa, has been working for three decades now to provide social services to the poor, particularly prisoners, and runs a halfway house that has taken in hundreds of released prisoners over the years, both Jews and Arabs. According to the halfway house’s owner-director Jamal Shehada, since 2011 House of Grace is now the only halfway house for released Arab prisoners who are on probation. According to figures presented by House of Grace, between 2012 and 2015 it has taken in 81 released prisoners, 70 percent of whom successfully completed all the intensive programs they were asked to take part in. The treatment programs last 21 months, out of which the clients live at the house for nine consecutive months.

There are currently 13 released prisoners at the house, most of whom are undergoing rehabilitation. Clients at the house said they were worried they would be sent back to the community before they were ready.

Husam, one of the released prisoners at House of Grace, said he arrived there eight months ago after three and a half years in prison. His most recent prison term was his sixth and he has been in jail of and on for 21 years. “Since I’ve been here, life looks different. I go to work and come back and the most important thing is that I have faith in the halfway house and my self-confidence is coming back. I’m afraid that if they throw me out again into the community I’ll go back to drugs and problems because I’m still not ready to be there. I’m in my 50s and I feel like my life is just beginning.”

Another released prisoner, Sami, also in his 50s, who says he has spent more than 20 years behind bars off and on, has two children, ages 15 and 18. “From my point of view this is my home now and I feel like this is my real starting point to return to the community. I tried many times and did not succeed but this time I feel different. I go out to work and come back, this is something I never did in my life. People have to understand that we need a center that will understand us, otherwise we get lost.”

Dr. Walid Hadad, a supervisor in the Anti-Drug Authority in the Arab community, agrees that closing down the halfway house will do serious damage. “Studies abroad and in Israel stress the importance of social sensitivity,” he said. According to Hadad, the decision to close House of Grace is about profit and loss, but it could impact other areas of Arab society.

Attorney Abeer Baker, representing House of Grace, has recently approached the Social Affairs Ministry and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority seeking a reversal of the closure decision.

Closing House of Grace will be a fatal blow to released Arab prisoners, for whom life in the halfway house and in their mother tongue are a means of redressing social ills that plague them, Baker said. A public committee on sentencing of offenders published a detailed report recommending that prisoners be released to halfway houses even before completing two thirds of their sentence, said the attorney, adding that the recommendation shows the importance of keeping halfway houses open, especially those that serve a specific community.

The Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority said it decided to end its association with House of Grace when it the economic aspects and budgetary difficulties, and that it would find an alternative for all the released prisoners being treated there. The authority said that with the arrival of its new director, Itzhak Dadon, at the end of 2013, it only had four Arabs on staff, and after a thorough reform the situation has improved and 18 more have been hired.