Shin Bet to Build Four More Detention Facilities to Meet Court Ruling

High Court ordered the state that all prisons and detention facilities meet a minimum 4.5 square meters per detainee

Josh Breiner
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Ayalon prison, 2016
Ayalon prison, 2016Credit: Emile Salman
Josh Breiner

The Shin Bet security service will be opening four new interrogation facilities for security detainees and remodel one existing facility to comply with a High Court of Justice order requiring that all prisons and other detention facilities in the country meet a minimum 4.5 square meters (48 square feet) per detainee. 

The state informed the High Court of the plans on Sunday, but the Shin Bet said that the minimum requirement would only be met by 2025, instead of by the end of this year as the court had ruled. 

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In the course of the hearings in the High Court of Justice on the issue, the state informed the court that it had developed a plan to build new prisons and reduce the number of prisoners in existing facilities, but that it had not taken into account the specific conditions of detainees at Shin Bet holding facilities, which do not meet the minimum set by the court. 

For its part, the Shin Bet filed a brief with the court in which it argued that improving conditions at the security agency’s detention facilities “would harm its ability to gather intelligence and to foil terrorist attacks” and also do harm to efforts to pursue criminal proceedings against terrorists. 

The court responded that the conditions at all of the country’s detention facilities needed to be upgraded, including for detainees under Shin Bet interrogation. It is not clear what the size of Shin Bet holding cells is currently, but a court filing by the state makes it clear that in some cases it is less than three square meters per detainee.

It was following that exchange of information, that the state informed the court on Sunday of its intention to build new Shin Bet interrogation facilities. 

An affidavit submitted to the court and signed by the head of the Shin Bet’s interrogation department, who was identified only as Yanai, said a Shin Bet detention facility is currently under construction that will be finished in 2021, and will be supplemented by three other new facilities by 2025, two of which will be on the premises of regular prisons.

At the same time, the relevant government ministries have begun developing legislation that will exclude security prisoners from the minimum requirements set by the High Court. Initially, this will be done as an emergency order, although it has not been disclosed how far along the drafting process has progressed. 

The state had initially been ordered by the High Court to provide a minimum of three square meters per prisoner by March of this year in response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan. The order was not complied with, however. 

The high court held another hearing at which the justices took the state to task for its failure to comply, after which the state, including the Israel Prison Service, began taking steps to increase the living space available to prisoners, steps that included granting early release to some prisoners, starting construction on new prisons and increasing the duration of time that prisoners can seek to have converted from incarceration to work outside the prison from six months to nine.