Israeli Prisoners Stay Jailed Past Release Date Because of a Bureaucratic Spat

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Israel's first private prison, built right next to the Eshel Prison in the southern city of Be'er Sheva.
Israel's first private prison, built right next to the Eshel Prison in the southern city of Be'er Sheva. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israeli prisoners who have served their term behind bars and were slated to be released are still in prison because the Israel Prison Service has decided it will not send representatives to the parole committee, which is therefore not convening.

The Be’er Sheva District Court ordered the Prison Service on Wednesday to send a representative to the parole committee at the Eshel Prison and instructed the parole board to meet within one week, after an urgent petition was filed by a prisoner who was supposed to be released already.

“The Prison Service makes its own rules and the prisoners are paying the price,” a legal source involved in the case said. Dozens of prisoners, some of whom are due to be released, have been affected by the cancellation of the parole board meetings at the Eshel Prison complex in Be’er Sheva.

The Prison Service decided to suspend its participation in the parole board meetings about a month ago, after years of taking part in them. It did so because the law states that a prisons officer may attend the meetings of the parole board, which is made up of four members and is headed by a sitting or a retired judge. According to the law, the prisons officer, who is to be of a certain minimum rank, does not have voting rights and is there to provide information to the board to facilitate its decision. The Prison Service has begun to interpret the law as if they do not have the obligation to attend the meetings, or it has sent an officer who does not have the required rank.

The law is now being revised to include an amendment requiring a prisons representative to attend the meetings. But the prisons commissioner decided that an officer of the appropriate rank will not be sent to the meetings, a decision that the Prison Service says the state prosecutor has agreed to.

Following the commissioner’s decision, the Public Defender’s Office filed a petition to the High Court of Justice, calling the situation “a fatal blow to the rights of the prisoners,” the petition states, adding that as a result of the situation, the prisoners feel “a deep sense of damage to their self-esteem, as well as degradation and helplessness, as if they are pawns in the hands of others. It is a clear violation of the dignity of the prisoner looking forward to the date of the parole board hearing, when the meeting is postponed to an unknown date just because of a decision by the Prison Service to act according to the letter of the law.”

The Israel Prison Service responded that responsibility for the meetings of the parole board had been transferred three years ago to the Courts Administration.

According to an agreement between the Courts Administration, Prison Service and the Public Security Ministry, it was decided that since the Courts Administration was made responsible for the parole board meetings, the prisons’ role would be reduced and given over to another professional, and the service would submit its opinion on a prisoner to the committee before the hearing, like any other professional involved in the process.

A few months ago, the Courts Administration asked to reverse the agreement it had made with the other bodies, and so the legislation has not gone forward on the amendment to require the prisons representative to appear.

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