Israel Police Reluctant to Return Millions in Bail to Uncharged Suspects

Most of the people suffering from practice are poor; many are also immigrants or Arabs who don’t speak Hebrew well and don’t know how to navigate the system.

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A policeman walking out of a police station in Israel.
A policeman walking out of a police station in Israel. Credit: Moran Maayan

Many people who are freed on bail while under police investigation say they later encounter trouble getting the money back. And the numbers back them up: Data given to Rabbis for Human Rights show that from 2012 to 2015, the amount police received in bail is more than 15 million shekels ($4 million) greater than the amount they returned.

RHR’s freedom of information request was prompted by an Ethiopian-Israeli family who sought the organization’s help in recouping the bail they had paid for their son, who was never indicted. The family was poor and needed the money badly, but RHR said it got the money back only after a great deal of work, including an appeal to the police commissioner’s office. For many such families, it added, the red tape would have been an insurmountable obstacle.

Altogether, the police collected 23,937,460 million shekels in bail in 2012-15 and returned only 8,600,480 shekels, leaving them with a net profit of 15,336,980 shekels.

These figures do not include bail set by the courts; they cover only bail set by a police officer and collected at the police station from people suspected of misdemeanors.

Yet by law all such money should be returned within six months, unless a court decrees otherwise. And even the courts themselves have criticized the police’s conduct on this issue.

Many people end up hiring lawyers just to help them get their bail money back. Others seek help from legal forums on the internet.

“For an entire month, I’ve kept coming to the station and making the familiar rounds of the officer/investigator/inspector/policewoman at the end of the corridor, who can’t help me without that one officer who isn’t there and doesn’t answer his phone — and therefore I’m asked to return next week,” wrote one man, who was still awaiting the return of the 1,000 shekels he had paid in bail eight months previously, on his Facebook page. “Are the police avoiding returning my money, or is there really nobody at the Kfar Sava station who knows how to do this?”

Most of the people suffering from this practice are poor. Many are also immigrants or Arabs who don’t speak Hebrew very well and don’t know how to navigate the system. The well-off generally have lawyers, who take care of retrieving the bail money for them.

The police recently installed a computerized system that was supposed to resolve the problem. But people are still complaining about not getting their money back.

A police statement said that simply comparing how much bail the police collected and how much they returned was tendentious and meaningless, since in many cases the six-month limit is legally extended due to ongoing criminal proceedings.

The force has an “orderly, regulated system” for returning bail money when legally required, it added.

Moreover, it continued, the police’s increased use of bail as an alternative to detention should be welcomed, ditto the fact that they have made it much easier to post bail, including by allowing payment both at police stations and post offices.

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