Some Local Governments in Israel Refusing to Fund Prisoner Rehab Programs

‘Where you live affects whether you can get paroled,’ says public defender.

Oren Ziv

Prisoners who qualify for state-sponsored rehabilitation programs cannot always be paroled because local authorities are refusing to fund their share of the programs, according to the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. Professionals say releasing prisoners without a rehab program makes their recidivism more likely.

According to the authority (an agency of the Social Affairs Ministry), about six months before every prisoner is due to appear before a parole board, an authority staff member interviews him to determine whether he can be released to the community. If he can, a rehabilitation program is developed for him in conjunction with the prisoner rehabilitation coordinator in his town, assuming there is one. If there is no such coordinator, the prisoner is referred to one of the authority’s hostels to help ease his transition back into society.

Every local authority with a certain number of prisoners has such a coordinator, whose funding is meant to be shared equally between the rehab authority and the local government.

According to Jack Dadon, director of the rehab authority, over the past two years the number of cities meant to have prisoner rehab coordinators has risen from 41 to 80, but in many cities local officials aren’t cooperating.

“There are mayors who aren’t interested in this [program] and don’t want to sign up. There are mayors who don’t want to pay what’s needed, and there are mayors who don’t want to pay at all,” he said. “Local authorities are obligated by law to deal with all their residents, no matter what his status, color, size, belief or gender. They have to take care of them. The moment someone comes to a city welfare office, they are required to deal with him. Why are ex-cons exceptions? I have no clue.”

Last week the parole of a qualified prisoner who lives in Upper Nazareth was blocked because the municipality refused to cooperate in preparing a rehab program for him. Another hearing on his case, to which representatives of the authority and the municipality have been summoned, is scheduled for next month, but meanwhile he remains behind bars.

During the hearing last week, the option of private rehabilitation was raised, but such programs are expensive and most prisoners cannot afford them.

It isn’t known how many prisoners have been affected by this lack of agreement, but according to the authority, in addition to Upper Nazareth there are at least 10 other local governments not cooperating with the agency. The ones named were Baka al-Garbiyeh, Tiberias, Nahariya, Or Yehuda, Rehovot, Bnei Brak, Kfar Sava, Ra’anana, Hod Hasharon and Nes Tziona. Dadon said that over the past three years he had written numerous letters to the recalcitrant local governments and visited the mayors’ offices to discuss the matter, “but there are places where, unfortunately, my presence, the letters and the law don’t interest them.” He added that in Nahariya the mayor refused to meet with him despite four requests.

According to documents obtained by Haaretz, the rehab authority plans to insert the following statement in the file of every prisoner whose parole is refused for lack of a local rehabilitation program: “The prisoner was found suitable for a rehabilitation program in his city of residence. But because the [name of city] municipality unilaterally refuses to cooperate with the PRA, no rehabilitation program can be formulated for the prisoner. [A city’s] refusal to take responsibility for its residents, including its prisoners, contravenes the law. When the dispute is resolved with the Union of Local Authorities, the PRA will formulate a rehabilitation program as recommended.”

Attorney Maya Rosenfeld, who heads the Tel Aviv Public Defender’s Office prisoner department, said that the dispute between the prisoner authority and the municipalities makes it more likely that ex-cons will return to a life of crime. “That makes it everyone’s problem. This harms all the country’s residents, not just the ones of that particular locale.”

Rosenfeld said she had encountered prisoners who could not get a rehab program arranged for them in Rehovot because the city refused to fund it, and were forced to register at a different address. “There’s no doubt that where you live affects whether you can get paroled,” she said. “It’s clear that that’s not proper.”

The Upper Nazareth municipality, however, says that the Union of Local Authorities had instructed them not to enter into any new agreements with the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority until the funding responsibilities were clearly defined, saying the authority did not always provide its share of the funding.

“Throughout the years cooperation was based on an agreement whereby the PRA helps fund the employment of a social worker to deal with prisoners,” the city said. “In fact, the burden fell totally on the city, which is why it was decided to insert changes to the agreement nationwide through the Union of Local Authorities. After extensive negotiations, a draft agreement was written, but the PRA is unilaterally ignoring it and continued to send us the old agreement. It was decided by the Union of Local Authorities that at this point local governments should not sign the agreement.”

The Ra’anana municipality said, “Every prisoner who lives in Ra’anana gets the full prisoner rehabilitation service. Every prisoner, before his release, is assigned a social worker who accompanies him and his family through the process of release from prison and rehabilitation afterwards The service to released prisoners who are Ra’anana residents will not be undermined by these disputes.”