Israel Must Find Those Responsible for Prison Failure

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Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on Monday.

“You don’t need to be a great genius to understand that this was a serious lapse,” declared Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, referring to the escape of six security prisoners from Gilboa Prison on Monday.

He emphasized that he wouldn’t make do with only a normal investigation of the incident. In a Facebook post, Bar-Lev referred to the engineering faults in the prison’s planning, which were known to authorities. He also noted the attempted escape in 2014, using the same underground passages, which was only foiled at the last minute. Afterward, a committee investigated the incident. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine more definitive proof of a serious failure, in Bar-Lev’s words, and of lessons from that attempt being ignored.

It’s not just Bar-Lev who’s stating the obvious. Senior Prison Service officials say security lapses that enabled the prisoners to escape were long known to the service but left unattended. The list of failures that led to the escape is long: the six prisoners being kept together even though they were all from Jenin, a town close to the prison, with three of them labeled “high risk of escaping;” the prison, defined as high-security, having no patrol vehicle circling it in search of hazards or attempted breakouts; the Prison Service turning a blind eye to prisoners using smuggled cellphones (it appears the six planned their escape aided by people on the outside via a phone smuggled into their cell, then escaped in a vehicle that was waiting for them); the engineering plans of one of Israel’s most tightly guarded prisons being available online and freely accessible; a guard on the watchtower right above the escape shaft admitting she was drowsy during the incident; the elapse of nearly two hours between the first report of an escape and the conclusion of the prisoner count.

The escape requires the Prison Service to take stock, including the introduction of technological measures that will replace tired guards. The neglect of the Prison Service and its installations over the years has also contributed to this latest lapse. The Prison Service has become the backyard of the defense establishment, and budgets allocated to it have gone to salaries and pensions instead of towards modern buildings and an improvement in prisoners’ conditions.

Bar-Lev must order the establishment of an external commission of inquiry that will identify the people responsible and draw conclusions, personal and structural, and ensure that its recommendations are implemented. One can’t pin this on a guard who fell asleep. The entire pyramid needs to be investigated, including its head, Chief Commissioner Katy Perry, on whose watch one of the most serious failures in the history of the Prison Service just took place.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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