Israeli Prisons Release Mentally Disabled Inmates With No Rehab

As Israeli authorities shirk their duties, parole boards warn that without proper treatment, recidivism among these prisoners will rise

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Rimonim Prison in Central Israel.
Rimonim Prison in Central Israel.Credit: David Bachar
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Dozens of mentally disabled prisoners who are also suffering from psychological problems are being released from Israeli jails without being placed in proper rehabilitative and treatment frameworks.

This is due both to prison and governmental authorities shirking their responsibilities. Parole board members have expressed concern that releasing these individuals into the community without giving them appropriate therapeutic assistance will lead them to return to a life of crime.

Y., a prisoner with intellectual and emotional disabilities, was sentenced in October, 2019 to two years in jail for criminal offenses including drug-related. Approximately six months ago, as his early release was looming, the board discussed his rehabilitation package. It was revealed that the Health Ministry has no suitable facility able to treat his particular needs, prompting a call from the panel to find another facility in coordination with Welfare Ministry officials.

However, the ministry determined that in order to be granted early release, Y. had to first undergo a psycho-neurological assessment. For its part, the Israel Prison Service then conditioned that exam on receipt of an official request from the ministry’s disabilities administration, but when the request finally arrived a month later, the service announced that it was unwilling to fund the diagnostic procedure.

Rimonim Prison in Central Israel.Credit: David Bachar

After the parole board (consisting of a prisons service officer, a judge and members of the public appointed by the Justice Ministry) warned that lack of diagnosis and proper treatment would spur Y. to return to crime, the prison service agreed to conduct the exam – but in three months’ time. Y.'s lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office stated that the delay means that he will be released on his original release date in November, and will thus be denied treatment. 

Y.’s case is but one of dozens of prisoners with various disabilities who fall between the cracks. While the authorities have set conditions meant to help these inmates seeking early release, be rehabilitated, in practice, the process is mired in complications.

The demands placed by the prison service, the Welfare Ministry and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority (which is responsible for determining conditions for released prisoners, most of whom are supposed to be provided with treatment under court-mandated conditions) change frequently, complicate the release process and, at times, even prevent the released inmates from being placed in proper settings. Thus, the prisoners are doomed to leave jail according to the original date, no matter how much they may have earned an early release, and return to the community without receiving the necessary treatment and rehabilitation.

The case of Z., a prisoner suffering from cognitive problems and a personality disorder, is yet another in which early release is progressing at a snail’s pace. He was incarcerated in 2014 for eight years for setting fire to antennas and other equipment. At the meeting to determine his rehabilitation benefits, a decision was made that he would receive treatment for a trial period upon release. But due to his complex condition, the parole board referred him to the Welfare Ministry’s disabilities administration. The rehabilitation authority then contacted the latter, but Y.’s treatment only began two months later, last May.

The Welfare Ministry responded to a query from Haaretz saying that Z. doesn’t even belong to the disabilities administration’s target population, and that he is under the responsibility of the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry replied that it does not address individual cases but usually prefers not to send released prisoners with psychological or other disabilities to the relevant rehabilitative institutions to avoid jeopardizing patients from the public. Either way, Z.’s original sentence ends in October 2022, and thus far no fitting solution to his situation has been found.

In response, attorney Ben Chimon, who represents Y. and Z., said that “these individuals will return to the community without proper care, all because the relevant authorities abdicate their responsibilities due to budget and other matters. This conduct undermines the public interest and is regrettable.”

Rimonim Prison in Central Israel.Credit: David Bachar

R., a person who usually lives on the street and is currently serving his ninth prison sentence, was recently released without being sent to an appropriate rehabilitative institution. He is addicted to drugs, suffers from schizophrenia and has been hospitalized numerous times in psychiatric wards. He was sentenced to 15 months for various criminal offenses and for obstructing a police officer in the line of duty; in prison he received medication only for his condition, without undergoing other appropriate therapeutic or rehabilitative treatments.

Early in the legal proceedings against him, R.’s attorney had him transferred to one of the few facilities for those suffering from multiple issues, but he was rejected by the institution’s staff for not displaying sufficient motivation. Further attempts to have him admitted for care after his release have failed as well. The Health Ministry panel discussing his rehabilitative treatment determined that there was no proper solution for him, and eventually he was released into the community due to overcrowding in prison. His family describes a repetitive pattern in which each time he is released from prison back to the community, R. awaits placement in a therapeutic institution – during which time he commits crimes and is sent back to jail.

The prison service’s response: “The planning of the release process is done by social workers along with representatives of the Prisoner’s Rehabilitation Authority. In the event that the prisoner suffers from a cognitive disability, the social worker will refer them to the relevant authorities. These are processes that take a long time and involve other professional workers in the community. Let us emphasize that in the cases mentioned here, the prison service acted appropriately and within a reasonable time.”

The Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority commented that it is “doing all it can to promote the rehabilitation of prisoners ahead of their release. In the cases cited in this article, proper assessment and decisions by a professional panel are required which are not within our purview.”

The Welfare Ministry responded that “The disabilities administration at the ministry initiated a discussion three years ago, which included the prison service and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. Since then, ongoing work meetings have been taking place to settle the matter of prisoners with diminished cognitive abilities ahead of their release. According to protocol, cases of prisoners who meet the criteria are sent by the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority to the Welfare Ministry for diagnosis and determination of a proper solution.”

For its part, the Health Ministry rejected “the claims of shirking responsibilities” and noted that each case of a patient with a mental disability “is examined on its own merits in a professional and compassionate manner.” At the same time, the ministry noted that “people who have been in the prison system are convicted criminals, and in many cases, the behavior stemming from the criminal element is what demands the primary rehabilitative effort, not the mental disorder.”

The ministry stressed that “such behavioral rehabilitation is not at the core of the Health Ministry’s rehabilitative system, and therefore placing these people in a framework that provides a solution for low-functioning, vulnerable and helpless individuals (who can easily fall prey to exploitation) without examining each case on its merits, is highly improper.”

The ministry also added that it has recommended that the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority devise a rehabilitative system of its own that will be professional and able to cater to the needs of released inmates with various disabilities, and include psychiatric consultation if needed.

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