The parole board’s denial of early parole to former President Moshe Katsav reflects the principle of equality before the law and an insistence that the rehabilitation of a prisoner seeking parole must begin in prison.
The protocole is for this process to begin while the sentence is being served, although it may continue after parole. With regard to sex offenders, the rule is that rehabilitation cannot begin before the acceptance of responsibility, which Katsav has so far refused to do.
The Supreme Court has ruled that early parole is not a right but rather a privilege, granted at the discretion of the authorities. Therefore, the decision to condition consideration of Katsav’s parole request on his starting the rehabilitation process was justified and appropriate.
This decision strikes an appropriate balance between general principles and the considerations of individual justice in Katsav’s case. The parole board was careful to uphold the principle of equality before the law and didn’t give Katsav any extra privileges, but it also wasn’t unnecessarily hard on him. Its decision paved the way for him to be paroled in about another six months, when his case comes up for review in February 2017, if he begins the rehabilitation process and shows progress in recognizing his mistakes.
In this regard, the parole board noted that it had observed a small change in Katsav’s position: Though he still denies his guilt, he has begun a process of self-examination and of recognizing his mistakes, even if he hasn’t yet taken responsibility for the harm done his victims.
The only thing that should be changed before the parole board’s next meeting is that it ought to remove considerations of “public trust” in the system from the question of whether to give Katsav early parole. The parole board included this consideration among its reasons for refusing his parole request the first time, and it was present again in the board’s current decision. But this consideration has no place among those used to decide whether or not to parole a prisoner, even one convicted in such a high-profile case. The criteria for parole that apply to other prisoners must also apply to Katsav.
For even if Israel’s eighth president is ultimately released in another few months, the public message sent by the Katsav case is clear: Everyone is equal before the law.