Dozens of prisoners, some of them minors, are being held separately from other prisoners for lengthy periods, some longer than two years, according to a report issued by the Public Defender’s Office on Tuesday.
Most of these prisoners are isolated and unoccupied for 23 hours a day, the report says. In some cases the conditions are downright inhuman, with prisoners having no access to medical treatment, rehabilitation programs, education or leisure activities.
The Israeli law allows a prisoner to be separated from other inmates for reasons of state security, prison security, prison discipline and to maintain the health and safety of the prisoner himself or of other prisoners, among other reasons.
According to the latest data available from the Israel Prison Service, 121 prisoners are held separately from other prisoners. Not all are in solitary confinement: 24 are held with one other prisoner who must also be kept apart from the rest.
Twelve of these isolated prisoners are minors, three are women and 18 are security prisoners. Thirty-nine of these prisoners have been confined separately for three months, 24 for periods of 3 to 12 months, 21 for one to two years and 36 for more than two years.
The report includes a survey of all the main inadequacies in the prison service’s nine solitary wings, based on information obtained in 2011 by the Public Defender’s Office staff in their roles as official prison auditors and from information gathered by public defenders who have represented prisoners during proceedings aimed at extending their separate confinement.
On official visits to confinement cells, attorneys found horrible conditions, including stifling heat in the summer and freezing winter cold; poor sanitation; insect infestation and structural conditions that impair prisoners' privacy.
The report describes the conditions of one cell as “horrifying.” The attorney who visited that cell said there is no door or partition of any kind between the toilet and the cell. The cell, according to the attorney, was especially dirty, with old food strewn on the floor and on the beds, cockroaches crawling on the floor and the walls and bloodstains on the floor.
The prisoner being held there said he never was given time to walk in the courtyard, is not allowed to receive phone calls and had never seen a doctor.
According to the report, similar conditions prevail in some of the other facilities that were checked.
The public defender’s staff also found that mentally ill or emotionally disturbed prisoners were being held separately for long periods. In Sharon Prison, for example, they found that many of the prisoners being confined separately suffered from serious psychiatric conditions, conditions that generally were the reason for their isolation.
The Public Defender’s Office, headed by Dr. Yoav Sapir, expressed hope that the Israel Prison Service would quickly develop good alternatives to solitary or separate confinement and use those options as seldom as possible.
The Prison Service responded: “We’re talking about an unavoidable necessity and agree that this process creates various difficulties that the IPS is attempting to reduce. The IPS welcomes the criticism and is doing everything it can to correct the deficiencies. In instances where violations of orders and regulations were discovered, they were checked and conclusions were drawn; when necessary, those responsible were removed from their positions.
“In a clear effort to improve the living conditions of the prisoners in all prisons, and as part of the IPS’s multi-year program, most of the separation wings were renovated at a cost of several hundred thousand shekels.”
Dr. Ishai Menuchin, director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, said, “The shocking picture that emerges from this report about separation borders on abuse as it is defined by the International Convention Against Torture, to which the State of Israel is a signatory. The report shows us yet again that even as it signs international conventions as public relations maneuver, the state continues to violate them consistently, as we learn from this report and from the illegal return of the Eritrean refugees to Egypt last week.”