Israeli Incarceration Figures Reveal Eruption in Arrest Rates, Legal Proceedings Over 17 Years

From 1998 to 2015, annual arrests rose from 38,000 to 62,000, while remands in police custody until end of legal proceedings soared from 6,000 to 20,000, says public defender’s report.

The Neveh Tirza women’s prison in Ramle.
Limor Edrey

Strip searches of suspects by police are on the rise, according to the Public Defender’s Office annual report, as is legal action brought against people for minor crimes or offenses committed due to poverty and distress.

According to the report, in 1998 there were 38,000 arrests – compared to 62,000 in 2015. The number of people held in custody until the end of proceedings against them has also soared: In 1998 the figure was 6,080, and in 2015 – 20,187. The number of day-long detentions for purposes of questioning has also risen, although in half to two-thirds of the cases, no charges are brought, the report states.

The report states that in 2015 and 2016, the Public Defender’s Office encountered repeated cases “in some police stations, of detainees, including minors and people without criminal records, who are required to remove all their clothes and remain naked as the day they were born before police conducting the search.”

According to the report, “It seems that some of these searches were conducted in breach of the law and while severely violating the legal rights of detainees to dignity and privacy.”

The report describes the case of a 15-year-old boy with no criminal record who was arrested by police from the Haifa police station on suspicion of aggravated fraud and possession of hashish for personal use. The boy said that when his detention was extended he was strip-searched. The procedure was not documented by the police. The court criticized the police for the action, which it said was unjustified, and “strange, to say the least.”

Ex-police chief's policy blamed in part

The Public Defender’s Office ascribes the rise in arrests and custody until the end of legal proceedings partly to the plan by former Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, which was widely criticized after it set a goal of increasing the number of such arrests. The national public defender, Dr. Yoav Sapir, met in January with the current commissioner, Roni Alsheich, who said he was going to rethink the policy.

The report also warned of the many “insignificant cases” – those that are “far from the level of criminality” and do not justify indictments, and cases of offenses committed out of poverty. It includes as an example the case of a man who threw gravel at another man. The magistrate’s court ruled that the case did not justify indictment and even if it was determined that the suspect injured the complainant, this case would not be brought to trial.

The report also describes the case of a woman who complained that she was being threatened, and waited for the police outside her home accompanied by her two dogs. When the police began to take her statement, one of her dogs bit the police officer, and she was charged with carelessness in dealing with an animal.

“The Public Defender’s Office often encounters cases in which the powers of the criminal justice system are invoked instead of other social systems, such as welfare or mental health,” the report states. For example, it presents the case of a man who broke into a public housing apartment seeking shelter for his wife, who is mentally ill, and their four children. He was caught trying to pry open a window, even before entering the premises, and he and the whole family were arrested. He was placed on probation after a plea bargain.