A new master plan for Israel’s prisons was approved on Monday that provides for the construction of two prisons for men, but it does not authorize construction of a new women’s jail, despite the poor conditions at the country's only women’s prison.
Neve Tirza, located in the central Israeli city of Ramle, was built in the 1960s and houses about 140 prisoners. A 2017 report by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center described it as “old and crowded" and said that it does not "meet the needs of women and their children.”
Unlike the country’s prisons for men, Neve Tirza does not separately house suspects awaiting trial and women who have already been convicted, or juvenile prisoners and adults. The Knesset’s research center said the prison's conditions damage the rehabilitation process of some of the prisoners, and may harm their general wellbeing.
The level of security at Neve Tirza is also exceptionally high, which is also distressing for women who are sent there for relatively minor offenses. Two-thirds of the women are serving sentences shorter than seven years.
Statistics from 2017 show that the average education level among prisoners is eighth grade, and that most of them are mothers. According to regulations, prisoners who are mothers to children under two years old may keep the children with them in prison, but a series of reports show that the building, which is exceptionally crowded, is not suited for toddlers. As of now, only one prisoner is raising her child there.
Simona Mori, who served 22 years in the prison for aiding in the murder of her abusive husband, said that because Neve Tirza is in the Ayalon Prison compound, they treat the women like they're terrorists. "The prisoners suffer from harsh Israel Prison Service conditions, in addition to harsh physical conditions: the building is old, dilapidated and dangerous. The conditions are terrible, but there's no government, no budget, no nothing and nobody cares."
An Israel Prison Service statement says that the approved plan provides "the best possible response" based on analysis and prison population projections through 2040. “The number of women prisoners in Israel has been on the decline for years and is currently 138 women," it says, adding that a dramatic change in this trend is unexpected. The Prison Service said it is also looking into alternatives to improve Neve Tirza’s conditions while keeping it in the center of the country, an accessible location to families.
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In recent years, proposals have been put forward to provide an alternative to serving time at Neve Tirza, including house arrest for women with children and incarceration in hostels, but they did not attract the support necessary to implement them.
The plans for new prisons for men were prompted in part by a High Court of Justice order requiring that the Israel Prison Service relieve prison overcrowding. Last month, the government acknowledged that it would not meet the deadline set by the court.