Israel's Prisons Weigh Treatment Program for Corrupt Politicians

Plan considered after former minister Benizri retracted his statement of remorse following his release; prison official: If Benizri had been any other prisoner, he would have been returned to prison.

The Israel Prison Service plans to test a treatment program for prisoners convicted of political corruption, according to the head of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, the statutory body that helps set standards for prisoner releases.

The PRA requested that such a program be instituted following the statements made by former Shas minister Shlomo Benizri after his early release from prison last week.

Shlomo Benizri - Tomer Appelbaum - 02032012
Tomer Appelbaum

Benizri had expressed remorse to a parole board for the bribery, breach of trust, conspiracy and obstruction of justice he committed while labor and social affairs minister, and was thus marked for early release after serving only two-and-a-half years of his four-year sentence. Immediately after his release, however, he retracted his statement of regret and proclaimed that he'd been framed and was innocent.

"If Shlomo Benizri had been any other prisoner, he would have been returned to prison or at least warned after making such comments," said PRA director Dr. Haim Iluz-Ayalon.

Iluz-Ayalon cited a legal opinion previously issued by the state prosecutor, who stated, "A prisoner who was judged suitable for early release since, among other things, he expressed regret for his conduct, but after his release behaves otherwise, can be summoned to the parole board for a warning or even to extend his [imprisonment]."

Unlike other prisoners, those convicted of crimes like bribery, money laundering and tax evasion don't go undergo any kind of rehabilitation program while in prison. The pilot program will be introduced at the Hermon Prison, and later at Ma'asiyahu Prison, Iluz-Ayalon said.

Some 35 prisoners convicted of political corruption are expected to be among the first two groups, among them former finance minister Avraham Hirschson and former Israel Tax Authority head Jacky Matza.

The Conditional Release Act (2001 ) gives the PRA the mandate to organize treatment programs for prisoners slated for early release. The law conditions the release of the prisoner on his participating in such a program. The rehabilitation process, which is meant to start at least six months before a request is made to the parole board, includes a work plan and participation in workshops related to the crime.

Rehab programs are conducted for those convicted of traffic violations, sex crimes, domestic violence, drug and alcohol related crimes, and even for certain types of fraud not related to political corruption. Those who committed fraud take workshops in controlling anger and resisting temptation - workshops that may well be included in the program for political criminals.

The PRA monitors some 1,500-2,000 prisoners every year to ensure that they are meeting the conditions of their release. For example, those convicted of drug crimes must submit to periodic blood tests, while those involved in domestic violence must undergo marriage counseling. Over the past few years, dozens of prisoners who violated these terms were returned to prison.

The prison service would not confirm the plan to introduce therapy programs for those convicted of political corruption. It stated only that "The Israel Prison Service conducts a variety of therapy groups for different populations, among them those who committed fraud. All suggestions to set up additional groups, as needed, should and will be examined by professionals before they are examined by the media."