Israel, prison overcrowding: inmates hit 15,000 mark

The number has grown by 900 in the past three months. The steady increase linked to the escalation of arrests by police in the Arab community. And by greater restrictions imposed by the Knesset to obtain release earlier than the deadline. Forty percent of the prison population consists of people in pre-trial detention.



Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The number of inmates locked up in Israeli prisons increased by at least 900 between February and May of this year, bringing the total prison population to 15,000 while exacerbating the problem of "overcrowding." The steady increase, the Haaretz newspaper explains in an investigation, is linked to the escalation of arrests made by police in recent weeks within the Arab community. Added to this is the tightening imposed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on the manner and timing under the law for early release, which has led to a sudden decrease in releases.

Due to the increase in the number of prisoners, prisoners are now supernumerary and do not comply with the dictates enshrined by the High Court in a 2017 ruling, which requires the state to guarantee each prisoner a minimum living space. To hit the targets set by the judiciary, the number of prisoners should not exceed 13,600 by the end of 2022. However, the number of prisoners rose from 14,084 in February to a total of 14,961 last week.

The data are collected by the nongovernmental organization Hatzlacha, which specializes in analyzing Israeli prison realities. The latest statistics show that the number of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in cells for opposing or resisting occupation policies is more than 4,500. In recent years, Palestinian prisoners have spearheaded numerous protests demanding better conditions in prison, including an end to a policy described as "unjustified" of carrying out raids and sweeping checks inside prisoners' cells.

Criminal law expert Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal said that 40 percent of the prison population is composed of people in pretrial detention who have not yet been sentenced, up from 30 percent four years ago. Another reason for the increase is new restrictions that prevent prisoners from being released before the end of their sentences. "The tightening," Gazal-Ayal points out to Haaretz, "is primarily related to the fact that the Knesset has banned the early release of prisoners convicted of serious violence, domestic violence and sex crimes.

The Israeli Prison Service said it is "doing everything possible to contribute to the fight against crime and maintain security for the people of Israel." Of course, the memo continued, "the large number of arrests ends up weighing on the prison system, which must provide a response within its facilities. It is difficult to anticipate the number of prisoners and detainees that will be absorbed," the document concludes, but "we are making great efforts and investments to comply with the High Court's ruling."

The judges ruled that each prisoner must have no less than four square meters of space inside the cell, excluding toilet and shower facilities, or 4.5 square meters including services. The space increase goal was to be hit in two phases, with completion scheduled by Dec. 31, 2022. In reality, according to data available today, the achievement of the set criteria [4.5 meters per inmate in 70 percent of prison facilities] will not be centered until the end of 2023.