Israeli Watchdog Slams Haredi Education Programs, Prison System and More

Israel's state comptroller released his yearly report on Monday, criticizing Israel on a variety of issues including crony appointments and the failure of the health system to prepare for the country's aging population

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Prisoners in Ayalon prison, May 2018.
Prisoners in Ayalon prison, May 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israel's state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, released his yearly report on Monday, criticizing Israel on a variety of issues including the Israeli prison system's failure to treat incarcerated sex offenders, among other things. Another target of criticism is crony appointments at the Welfare Ministry and at the National Insurance Institute, the failure of higher-education study programs for ultra-Orthodox men, and the failure of the health system to prepare for the aging of Israel’s population.

'Tough to get help '

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 26Credit: Haaretz

This last report by Shapira, who is retiring after seven years on the job, found that 60 percent of the 1,389 sex offenders in prison in 2017 were released without receiving any form of therapy – because prison policy states that anybody sentenced to less than two years’ incarceration isn’t entitled to any.

Therapy treatment is not mandatory and the Prison Service’s eligibility conditions are tough to meet. The prisoner has to state that he wants treatment, and wants to change; anybody continuing to deny the crime in jail is not eligible.

Therapy is provided in sessions for small groups and involves, among other things, developing empathy for victims.

The therapy course lasts between a year and a half and two years, so prisoners often do not complete the program. The Prison Service points out that various studies indicate that non-completion of therapy boosts the probability of recidivism.

The state comptroller wrote that basing eligibility for therapy on the wishes of the attacker may not be in service of the greater public good, and completing a prison term does not attest to material change in the perpetrator’s inner world and behavior.

The state comptroller also found that around 70 percent of cases involving pedophilia are closed due to lack of evidence. (Around 80 of all cases are closed.)

'Getting the ultra-Orthodox into the workforce'

The state has invested some 660 million shekels so far in study programs for ultra-Orthodox since the year 2000, with the goal of helping them find work in the modern world. The state comptroller found that these programs operate without any method of quality control and have not met their goals. The students in these programs receive very little support.

Israel's hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with an aging population.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

However, as reported by Or Kashti in Haaretz, these programs led to increased gender segregation at Israel's universities without increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox students. In fact, much of the money has been spent on achieving separation by gender on college campuses.

While supporters of the program point to the increase in the number of Haredi students, the state comptroller found that almost 80 percent of the Haredi who received academic accreditation were women, and 44 percent of those had studied teaching – a substantially oversupplied area of employment. The watchdog found that, for the most part, these students do not end up working in teaching jobs.

The responsible authorities have not set a target for enrollment of Haredi men, though that is one of the stated objectives of the program. If anything, since the program began, the proportion of male Haredi students has diminished. The state comptroller also found that almost half (46 percent) of the Haredi men taking part in the program quit, compared with 28 percent of the women. Academic dropout rates among non-ultra-Orthodox men is 20 percent and 12 percent among women.

'Aging with indignity'

Israel is not alone in observing that the average age of the population is rising, but the state comptroller found that the Health Ministry is not taking adequate steps to prepare, Ido Efrati reports.

The Health Ministry hasn’t opened new units in hospitals or expanded up existing ones. Though the government ordered the ministry to start preparing in 2015, the Health Ministry has not prepared a working plan for future development to handle the growing influx of the elderly.

The Health Ministry’s plans to add beds to geriatric wards by the year 2035 are incomplete, but the numbers agreed on with the Finance Ministry are inadequate.

Meanwhile the “supply” of hospital beds in Israel has sunk to its lowest level in 30 years: 1.78 beds per 1,000 people. Upon finishing his report in October 2018, Shapira wrote that the Health Ministry had no plan outlining the number of beds per capita, the future structure of geriatric wards, its principles for long-term planning.

'Disabled and in prison'

The state comptroller found that the state did not have adequate facilities for disabled criminals. “In the absence of suitable frameworks, people with handicaps were held locked up for long periods of time,” Shapira wrote, they were held in unsuitable conditions or released without serving their sentences despite the need to constrain their freedom.

Israel has only one suitable facility for criminals with disabilities, Neve Menashe, which can accommodate exactly 18 prisoners. The police have not handed down rules for handling or helping the disabled, the state comptroller added, and no information is provided to officers. It took four years from the deadline for the “improvement in service” to disseminate a document explaining the police’s duties under the equality law, the state comptroller adds.

Shapira also tells the story of Idan Benzion, 21, an autistic man who committed suicide after being arrested. He had been questioned by a regular policeman, not a specialist, Shapira found, and his detention had not been adapted to his situation. His guardian was not alerted of his detention until the interrogation was over. According to the police, at no point, Shapira wrote, did the people questioning him know about his condition, or that an expert should be consulted in such situations. Shapira wrote that the case should be reopened.

'Lack of enforcement against polluters'

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s enforcement of regulations against polluters is insufficient, and in many cases does not include dealing with serious hazards. According to the report, the ministry doesn’t have an orderly enforcement plan or clear goals for its enforcement activities, and the level of professionalism in its primary enforcement body – the Green Police – is lacking.

One of the major reasons for the failure is a serious lack of manpower, for which the treasury is partially responsible.

Haim Katz in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 2018.Credit: Yonatan Zindel/Flash

According to the report, which focused on the years 2014 to 2018, there was no action, administrative or criminal, taken against nearly two-thirds of documented environmental hazards.

In many cases of hazards that were defined as serious the ministry preferred to classify them as regular hazards, because classifying them as serious would have required that an indictment be filed within 72 hours. The ministry officials have difficulty addressing this issue due to the size of their workload.

The comptroller also found that the ministry has no proper separation between those responsible for regulation and those responsible for enforcement, meaning that officials who deal with factory regulation and are in touch with factory personnel continuously are also meant to be carrying out enforcement activities against them. This impedes effective enforcement.

'Crony appointments'

Over the objections of the civil service commissioner, Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz appointed a woman who had committed serious disciplinary violations as acting ministry director general. Katz also appointed six cronies to the National Insurance Institute Commission, and his director general, Avigdor Kaplan worked to appoint a worker who didn’t meet the prerequisites to the job of branch director.

'Lack of teaching credentials'

Only 12 percent of Hebrew language teachers in elementary schools are specifically trained to teach the subject; only 40 percent of math teachers have had math training while only 60 percent of English teachers have relevant preparation. The Education Ministry also employs substitute teachers with no experience or relevant education and doesn’t block the employment of teachers with criminal records.

'Undercutting veterans rights'

The conduct of the Disabled IDF Veterans Rehabilitation Branch undermines the chances of the disabled to be rehabilitated and endangers their physical and mental health. The lack of coordination between the branch and the National Insurance Institute is undercutting the rights of disabled veterans and many have been denied benefits and funds they were entitled to by law.

'Property maintenance abroad'

The Foreign Affairs Ministry does not deal properly with the hundreds of properties under its responsibility abroad. It has no comprehensive and detailed plan for maintaining the properties, which leads to short-term savings, but far higher expenses for repairs in the long term due to the lack of regular maintenance. The ministry doesn’t have full, updated and organized information about the state of hundreds of properties.

'Theft cases closed'

Ninety-two percent of property crime complaints are closed, most of them within a week. In most of the cases, the police did not carry out basic investigation activities like locating security cameras or seeking information from cellular and credit card companies. Only one of every 15 cases results in an indictment.

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