Israel's Committee Chairman Blocks Early Release of Security Prisoners

The chairman warned of shutting down the bill to allow early release of some 300 Palestinian prisoners to assure 'no terrorist or security prisoner is released by it'

FILE Photo: An Israeli prison guard keeps watch from a tower at Ayalon prison in Ramle near Tel Aviv.
Nir Elias/Reuters

Knesset Interior and Environment Committee Chairman MK Yoav Kish announced Monday that he would not advance a bill permitting the early release of inmates to reduce prison overcrowding unless security prisoners were excluded.

Kish’s announcement came after Haaretz reported Sunday that the bill, which was scheduled to go to the Knesset next week, provides for the early release on December 20 of around 1,000 prisoners, including 300 Palestinians who are serving sentences for security offenses.

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The bill is aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, after the High Court of Justice ruled that current conditions in Israeli prisons are a violation of human dignity.

The state has promised the High Court that by April of next year, each inmate would have at least 3.5 square meters of personal living space.

The bill calls for the shortening of all sentences, reducing one-year sentences by three months, for example, and slicing seven months from sentences of four or more years.

The version of the bill that was discussed and approved by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee in August included the security prisoners, although it was agreed that there would be an additional meeting to revise the bill before it was submitted to the Knesset plenum for its final rounds of votes.

But after the prospect of releasing security prisoners was made public, Kish said he would not allow this, even if it meant the bill’s passage would have to be postponed.

“Despite the importance of the bill for administrative releases, I will not bring it to completion until I am assured that no terrorist or security prisoner is released by it,” Kish said.

“Whoever thinks that I will allow a law to reduce prison overcrowding to be used so terrorists can be released even one day early is mistaken. There is no definition in the law of ‘security prisoner’ and I intend to continue the committee’s deliberations on the bill until I find the wording that will prevent terrorists from being released,” Kish added.

Kish had expressed his objections during the committee hearings on the bill. Shimrit Goldberg of the Justice Ministry and Israel Prison Service legal adviser Yochi Gensin, however, both pointed out that while Israel Prison Service regulations distinguish between security prisoners and other prisoners, the Law on Administrative Releases, which this bill will amend, doesn’t make such a distinction, and trying to make one would pose constitutional problems.

In any case, said Goldberg, “Not every security prisoner necessarily poses a greater risk than, say, a member of a crime organization.”