Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Groundbreaking report details Israel’s inhumane conditions for isolated prisoners

27 December 2010

By Tomer Zarchin, Haaretz – 27 Dec 2010

Report by Israel Bar Association, the first external review of the country’s prisons, says some sections ‘look more like a dungeon.’

A classified report by the Israel Bar Association obtained by Haaretz provides a glimpse into the harrowing conditions prisoners separated from the main jail population must endure.

According to the document, which is the first external review of the Prison Service, the isolation wings at the Ayalon and Shikma prisons are not fit for human habitation and “look more like a dungeon,” while most solitary cells in prisons across the country are “crammed, rancid with smells of sewer and mold, and infested with insects.”

“It’s difficult to ignore the feeling that isolation as practiced today serves a function of punishment rather than imprisonment,” wrote the authors of the report, Michael Atia – chairman of the prison service committee at the Israel Bar Association, and Moran Kabalo – chief of criminal law for the IBA.

“This is a unilateral instrument of punishment used primarily against organized crime groups,” the report reads.

Atia and Kabalo carried out the year-long review as official inspectors delegated by the IBA to the prison service, visiting prisons and speaking to the inmates.

The report noted that prolonged stay isolated from the general prison population has profound psychological impacts. “Many isolated inmates testified to have developed paranoia, a tendency for uncontrollable fits of rage, and eyesight problems because of the lack of natural light through most hours of the day,” the lawyers wrote.

The report was handed three weeks ago to Prison Service Commissioner Benny Kanyak, and was forwarded to the attention of the chair of the IBA, Yori Geiron, and the head of the IBA criminal forum, Rachel Toren.

The Prison Service Commission orders stipulate that isolation is to be used only as a last resort to reach clearly defined goals, such as “the security of the prison, preventing real damage to the discipline and normal life in the prison, protecting the well-being or health of the prisoner or of other prisoners, and protecting the security of the state.”

The isolation wing is located in a separate part of the prison, with inmates incarcerated there divided into subgroups of prisoners with a high risk of escape, prisoners who may be hurt by other prisoners, and prisoners who might harm themselves and are kept under close and constant surveillance.

The report provides a rare insight into life in isolation wings. “Most such cells are windowless and are lit by cold fluorescent lights,” the report says. “The meals are brought on trays and are inserted through a latch that is shut immediately afterwards, to prevent poisoning.”

The lawyers noted that the Prison Service Commission orders explicitly prohibit keeping regular prisoners in isolation cells intended to house prisoners convicted in internal disciplinary trials. The report concludes that the use of the isolation cells as a routine “to hold isolation prisoners for extended periods of time is against the orders.”

It also states that most of the isolation and solitary confinement cells in the Prison Service fail to live up to minimal standards and are unfit for human habitation. “Keeping human beings in such unreasonable conditions for extended periods of time, dangerous though they may be, deals a critical blow to the most basic human rights.”

Prison Servic spokesman Yaron Zamir said in response that isolation was being carried out “under court monitoring and according to sheer necessity, while providing the appropriate conditions, rights and treatment.” He also said that a multi-year plan by the Prison Service included a large investment in renovating the prisons, including the isolation wings, with work already having begun in a number of them.

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