Illegal Cuffing and Strip-searches: Israeli Prison Service Blasted in Report

Public Defense decries ‘nation-wide, daily infringement of basic rights and violation of detainees’ human dignity’ in Israeli prisons, some called 'unfit for humans'

File photo: Prisoner poses for a photo in Ma'asiyahu Prison, Ramle, Israel, December 19, 2018.
Moti Milrod

Many Israeli prisons are severely overcrowded and “unfit for human reisdence,” the Public Defense Office found in a report published Sunday. Its biennial report for 2017-2018 details harsh conditions and poor sanitation and says prisoners sleep on the floor, have their hands shackled over their heads as punishment and are strip-searched for no reason.

The Prison Service, however, claims the issues brought up in the report have been since dealt with.

The report, based on surprise visits conducted by Public Defense officials, decries a “nation-wide problem that leads to daily infringement of the basic rights of those detained and imprisoned, and violates their human dignity.”

Strip-searches, according to prison staff quoted in the report, are “intended to maintain deterrence,” and are committed regularly despite the legal requirement for the inmate’s consent. On one day, 50 prisoners in Ayalon Prison were strip-searched to “break the routine,” the report states.

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One of them, who is described as a prisoner with a history of good behavior, said a guard approached him while he was working in the prison’s sewing shop and asked him to come with him to the bathroom, where he conducted a strip-search and found nothing.

“When such an incident happens, you feel like shit,” he said. “We give our all at work and have been there for years without problems, so why? It is simply a feeling of humiliation and disrespect.”

Public defenders also found that shackling prisoners to their beds is used illegally in prisons and detention centers as punishement on a regular basis. In one juvenile prison, 30 such cases were recorded in a single month. In most cases minors were shackled for two hours, and sometimes even for four or five hours at a time.

Furthermore, the report states, prisoners with mental conditions were cuffed to their beds instead of receiving treatment that the Israel Prison Service is required by law to provide.

In Hasharon Prison, one of the prisoners was not allowed to see a social worker of any other staff for two days but the guard who unchained him to eat or go to the bathroom. The prisoner said he was shackled after he refused to move to another wing, where he said prisoners he was afraid would harm him lived, and threatened to harm himself if he was moved.

The Israel Prison Service said strip-searches are carried out “only if a reasonable suspicion exists and according to the law,” adding the commanders of the prisons mentioned have all ensured that the staff was instructed on the regulations. 

Bedbugs and roaches

Unsuitable sanitary conditions were found in 19 Prison Service facilities, with some prison wings deemed “unfit for human residence.” The public defenders found crumbling walls covered with mold along with rats and mice in cells in Eshel Prison. Many facilities have only squat toilets with showers above, and prisoners use the single space for both purposes.

Prisoners in Ayalon Prison said they prefer to sleep on the floor, because mattresses and beds are swarming with bedbugs, which were found in other prisons, too. Visitors also found cells filled with cockroaches.

In some prisons, inmates sleep on the floor because of overcrowded cells.

The High Court of Justice has ruled that every individual prisoner must have a minimal personal space in their cell of 3 square meters, but in Shikma Prison some prisoners have only 1.5 square meters, the report finds.

Sixteen prison facilities in total do not meet the standards ordered by the High Court, which gave the Prison Service until the end of April 2019 -after the period the report inspected - to solve the problem.

The Prison Service said all sanitary issues mentioned in the report have been dealt with. In 2018, it established a committee that studied the overall problem of living conditions and allocated funds based on the its recommendations.

It added renovations have been made, old blankets were replaced and metal beds have been put in instead of wooden ones.

As for overcrowding, the Prison Service said the space allotted for prisoners has been set in a long-term plan and according to a governmental decision. As of April 30, 2019, every prisoner has at least 3 square meters of living space, it said, vowing to expand it to 4.5 square meters per prisoner and to further improve existing infrastructure.