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Israel: Amendment Law Passed Allowing Early Release to Accommodate Prison Living-Space Requirements

(Dec. 12, 2018) On November 5, 2018, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) passed the Prisons Ordinance (Amendment No. 54 Temporary Provision) Law, 5779-2018 (Amendment Law) (SEFER HAHUKIM [SH] [BOOK OF LAWS] (official gazette) 5779 No. 2755 p. 44, Ministry of Justice website (in Hebrew; click on issue no. 2755).

The Amendment Law is designed to enable the Superintendent of the Prisons Authority to implement the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision of June 13, 2017, requiring that prisoners and detainees be provided with a minimum of 4.5 sq m (48.4376 sq ft) of living space when a toilet and shower are included, or 4 sq m (43.0556 sq ft) when they are not. (Prisons Ordinance (Amendment No. 54 Temporary Provision) Government Draft Bill, 5779-2018, Knesset Draft Bill No. 1229 p. 933 (May 30, 2018) (Draft Bill), Knesset website (in Hebrew).)

In its June 2017 decision, Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as a High Court of Justice, accepted petitions submitted by several associations and ordered the state to gradually increase the personal living space allotted to every prisoner and detainee in the country to the abovementioned minimum within 18 months from the day the judgment was issued (i.e., by December 13, 2018). (HJC 1892/14 Association of Civil Rights in Israel v. Minister of Internal Security (June 13, 2017), STATE OF ISRAEL: THE JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (in Hebrew); see also Ruth Levush, Israel: Increase in Prisoners’ Living Space Mandated, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 30, 2017).)

Other options besides expanding prison facilities that the Court said could be used to implement its decision are increasing probation periods and expanding opportunities for early release under proper supervision outside of prison. (HJC 1892/14 para. 126.)

According to the Draft Bill’s explanatory notes, the Amendment Law is intended to enable the Superintendent to order early release periods in accordance with those provided in the amended supplement. (Draft Bill p. 934, referring to § 3 of the Amendment Law.)

Early release may apply only to prisoners who have been sentenced to imprisonment for four years or less, or to those sentenced to longer periods whose release on probation has been approved in accordance with conditions enumerated in sections 3 to 5 of the Release on Probation Law, 5761-2001. (SH  No. 1795 p. 410, as amended; Amendment Law § 1.) Under the Amendment Law early release may be authorized only within the period of three years from the Amendment Law’s publication on November 7, 2018.