Israel to House African Migrant Children in Prison, Not in Facility for Minors

Prison service's decision contravenes a 2011 High Court ruling against minors being held in prisons.

African children who arrived in Israel illegally will be housed in Givon Prison instead of the special facility for young migrants, after six boys escaped from that facility last week. The prison service says the move is temporary.

After the escape, the prison service ordered the facility shut down, with the 50 minors housed there moved to Givon Prison in Ramle, which houses illegal migrant adults. The prison service said the move was intended to foil further escape attempts.

The prison service's decision, however, contravenes a 2011 High Court ruling against minors being held in prisons. The court made the ruling in response to a petition by the Justice Ministry's legal aid department against holding children in prison, which the court said breached conventions on children's rights that Israel signed in 1991.

Following the ruling, the prison service set up the special facility for minors, known by its Hebrew acronym Matan. Matan has room for about 90 minors aged 12 to 18.

The Justice Ministry's legal aid department says it views the decision to close Matan down as collective punishment, especially in light of the High Court ruling.

The incarceration of teenage illegal migrants is meant to be temporary. But for them to get out of jail, room has to be found in a boarding school run by the Social Affairs Ministry or the Education Ministry. Alternatively, they can be released to an adult who would take responsibility for them without remuneration and after meeting certain conditions.

Reut Michaeli, the director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said that although the minors are separated from adult prisoners, they are housed in the same wing. "Givon Prison is a prison in every sense of the word," she said. "Once again we're learning that the good of the child is not the main thing on the state's mind."

The Justice Ministry's legal aid department told Haaretz: "The escape from Matan proves [our] argument before the High Court - that despite all the Israel Prison Service's good intentions, the long-term incarceration of minors and the paucity of solutions is bad for them."

Givon Prison's lack of suitability for young illegal migrants is even more rankling because these minors have not undergone a criminal trial, the legal aid deparment said. The department said it was "working to clarify the matter ... with the relevant officials and is considering its next steps."

According to the Israel Prison Service, "After examining the secure custodial conditions following the escape of six minors from Matan last week, it became necessary to increase the facility's security arrangements to prevent such cases and danger to the minors' safety.

"For the work to be carried out, the remaining 50 minors have been temporarily housed in Givon Prison in Ramle, defined as a custodial facility for illegal migrants. This is not a punishment, and the minors are being held at Givon according to the law, separate from adults."