General Information Prisoner's Rights
Prisoner's Rights Print E-mail

Rights granted to prisoners are divided into two types:

  • Basic rights anchored in law: housing, food and drinks, basic clothing, a bed and a mattress, physical and mental health care, legal aid and representation, including filing petitions to the court.
  • Privileges granted according to IPS provisions, directives, and procedures are only awarded at the discretion of the IPS Officer in Charge. The privileges include education, vacation, buying at the canteen, possession of personal items, family visits, sending and receiving mail, telephoning, and conjugal visits with spouses.

Basic rights cannot be denied, of course, just privileges, and the denial can only be accomplished by means of a quasi-judicial proceeding held by the official designated in Commission Ordinance 04.17.00, Granting, and Denying Privileges.

Security Prisoner's Rights

Basic rights apply to all prisoners, but there are significant differences in implementing these rights. For example, housing may be interpreted very broadly to include tents as in the Ofer and Ohalay Kedar detention facilities in which security prisoners are incarcerated.

Another example of discriminating against security prisoners is the right to be released on parole pursuant to the Parole Law (known in common parlance as reducing the prison term by a third). This law should apply to all prisoners, but the percentage of security prisoners released early is negligible.

Security Prisoner's rights are defined in Commission Ordinance 03.02.00, Rules Regarding Security Prisoners, which specifies those rights uniformly applicable to all prisoners and those which apply to other groups of prisoners. Examples of such distinctions appear below:

Formal and Informal Education

Inequality between security prisoners and criminal offenders is most conspicuous in this area. The IPS provides criminal offenders with a well-organized formal education program enabling them to complete their elementary or secondary school education. They are also allowed to participate in informal education programs, such as enrichment by means of workshops, group activities, and informational lectures on various subjects: art, communications, history, computers and other fields of knowledge. Security prisoners, on the other hand, may only study in their cells and are taught by other prisoners and not by teachers or lecturers brought in from the outside. The studies, take place, of course, under the watchful eye of the prison Intelligence officer or someone else authorized by the prison commander. Juvenile security prisoners are provided with only a minimal educational structure.

Academic Studies

All prisoners are entitled to complete their academic studies in specific subjects: Humanities, Sociology, Economics and Management, Psychology, and Political Science, provided that they study by correspondence. Security prisoners may only study through the Open University of Israel while criminal offenders may study with any institute of higher learning, including colleges that offer correspondence courses. Language is the main obstacle to the security prisoners' desire for academic studies since most of them do not know Hebrew or do not know it well enough to cope with academic studies.

Contact with Families, Telephone Calls, Letters, Vacations

Use of the telephone is another right denied to security prisoners, except in instances of death or terminal illness of a member of their immediate family, and this is subject to authorization from the prison commander. Security prisoners remain locked in their cells all day except for a few hours (in most prisons, for no longer than three hours). Criminal offenders, on the other hand, can be outside of their cells for most of the day.

Family visits for security prisoners are limited to their immediate families: mother, father, children, brothers, and sisters, with a glass wall separating the prisoners from their families. Today, as the result of a petition filed with the High Court of Justice, the IPS allows security prisoner's children under eight years old to have physical contact with the prisoners during the last ten minutes of the visit, but no more than once every two months (HCJ 7585/04 Hakim Cana'ana et al v. the Israel Prison Service.

Security prisoners are rarely allowed leave from the prison, since there are ordinances restricting this privilege. These restrictions make the matter of leave almost impossible, including leave for humanitarian reasons, such as participating in the funeral of a member of the immediate family, father, mother, brother, or son.

All prisoners are entitled to receive an unrestricted amount of mail. Security prisoners, however, may only send two letters and four postcards per month, and this restriction does not apply to criminal offenders.

Purchasing in the Canteen

All prisoners are entitled to make purchases in the canteen. The products for sale are determined in accordance with the IPS Ordinance, which allows for personal orders of permitted products. Over the years, there has been a clear tendency to limit the things that families can bring prisoners. For example, the IPS has recently restricted families from bringing books, materials for handicrafts, shoes for female security prisoners, etc. This situation makes it extremely difficult for poorer prisoners without any liquid funds in the canteen who can only receive the things they want from their families who may be able to buy these or similar products for less money outside of the prison.

Rights Obtained Following Hunger Strikes by Security Prisoners

It should be noted that the security prisoners obtained many privileges as the result of hunger strikes. The first hunger strike took place in 1970, lasted for seven days, and led to the start of visits by the Red Cross. After the strike, the prisoners were also allowed to have pencils and writing paper and since then this hunger strike has been called the "Pencil and Paper Strike." The longest strike was in 1976 and lasted for 65 days. Another strike took place in 1984 and resulted in allowing the prisoners to have televisions, radios, and newspapers. Over the years, there have been a number of additional hunger strikes for improving conditions in the prison, the last one in 2004.

Prisoner's rights in International Law

A large part of the international conventions that Israel has ratified relate to prisoner's rights in general, and to the rights of prisoners as human beings in particular. Examples of general conventions: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Another set of rules for the treatment of prisoners from 1957 is known as, "The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners." These rules deal with a variety of issues including, classifying prisoners (prisoners as opposed to detainees, adults as opposed to minors, and so on), prisoner's housing conditions in terms of light, ventilation, sanitary conditions, showers, toilets, personal hygiene, clothing, beds, food, medical care, books, religion, contact with the outside world, and so on. The rules also deal with disciplinary proceedings and defining means of restraint that are both proportional and reasonable.

In summary

prisoner's rights and IPS decisions are subject to court supervision in the same way as any other administrative authority. Some of the prisoners' rights today stem from rulings of courts that issued in-principle decisions dealing with such disparate matters as recognizing the fundamental rights of prisoners to human dignity to their right to have a bed and a mattress.

‘We should remember and recall that the human dignity of the prison inmate is the same as the dignity of every human being. Imprisonment violates the prison inmate’s liberty, but it should not violate his human dignity. A prison inmate has a basic right not to have his dignity violated, and every government authority has a duty to respect this right and to prevent it from being violated…" Words of Justice E. Mazza, in ruling Appeal on Prisoner's Petition 4463/94 Avi Hanania Golan v. Israel Prisons Service Case Law nun (4) 136, 15

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