Israeli Military Prisons to Cut Number of Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement

In wake of a Haaretz exposé on harsh conditions for soldiers kept in isolation in military prisons, the head of the Manpower Directorate acts to change the policy

Amos Harel
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Illustrative photo of IDF soldier under arrest.
Illustrative photo of IDF soldier under arrest.Credit: Tal Cohen
Amos Harel

The head of the Israeli army’s Manpower Directorate, Gen. Moti Almoz, is changing the military’s prison policy, which will improve conditions for hundreds of soldiers.

The change follows an exposé by Haaretz’s Gili Cohen in September which revealed the methodical solitary confinement policy in the prisons and the dearth of clear causes for sending soldiers to the solitary confinement wing. Prisoners who defied the staff – who talked back, acted violently or refused to wear prison garb – were sent to the wing, as well as prisoners who threatened to hurt themselves. The decision to put them there was placed in the hands of junior prison guards. The prisoners asserted that lacking other means of deterrence and punishment, the guards used solitary confinement as a punishment.

Military defense attorneys asserted that the prisons were quick to punish with solitary confinement and in many cases sent soldiers there because of disciplinary problems, even though according to the prison’s internal guidelines, solitary confinement is “an administrative and security measure, not one for punishment.”

Cohen quoted prisoners who described the wing as insufferable, suffocating and extremely hot. “It is perhaps the most difficult experience I have had in my life,” one of them told her.

In wake of the exposé, Almoz reviewed the situation in the isolation wards, and after consulting with Chief Military Police Officer Ran Kochav, decided to issue new guidelines. The new rules raise the rank of those who must approve putting a soldier in solitary confinement to lieutenant colonel. It will eventually be raised to colonel.

About 1,000 soldiers a year are currently held in such conditions, and Almoz intends to reduce that number to just a few dozen, and only use the it in extreme cases. Instead, the prisons have created an intermediate situation: They will keep prisoners who display suicidal tendencies together in a larger room and under better conditions than in isolation.

The exposé, which looked at the reality of military prisons 20 years after the prisoners’ revolt in Prison 6, surveyed the treatment of inmates in the isolation wing. The solitary confinement area is far from other cells. Each prisoner is held in a small cell just a few square meters in area which, as Cohen wrote, has an iron bunk bed, a sink, a toilet, a camera and a small window – with bars – to the outside world. Other than religious texts, no books are allowed in the wing. There is no leisure time for watching television or for social activities, other than the one hour given to the prisoners to walk around.

Ironically, depressed inmates were sometimes put in solitary confinement even though the setting is harsher and more isolated. All this is now supposed to change.

Senior officers told Haaretz that revising the policy is intended to reduce the emotional damage to inmates due to their imprisonment by taking into account the human dignity of the imprisoned soldiers.