HCJ rejects petition by HaMoked and Al-Mezan seeking administrative reduction of prisoner population due to the COVID-19 pandemic: despite the continued health emergency, Israel refrains from using this useful measure for easing overcrowding in prisons
On May 21, 2020, HaMoked and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice
(HCJ) to lower the threshold of the prison population to allow use of the measure of administrative early release, set in Section 68(c) of the Prisons Ordinance. This measure was used often in the past to reduce the total number of prisoners when it exceeded the threshold set periodically by the Minister of Public Security. The petition stressed that this measure allowed for nondiscriminatory early release, as, unlike other options, it does not exclude Palestinians classified as “security prisoners”. It further stressed that the conditions of severe overcrowding in IPS facilities make it impossible to observe social distancing necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic.
On June 18, 2020, the petitioners submitted an updating notice following the publication of a new threshold by the newly appointed Minister, which actually left the threshold at 14,000 prisoners, the same as the one set before the Coronavirus outbreak. The petitioners claimed the decision to leave the threshold unchanged had not been based on the relevant considerations underlying use of the administrative release mechanism.
On June 24, 2020 the HCJ rejected the petition, ruling that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Minister of Public Security were acting properly to safeguard prisoners’ health during the pandemic. The HCJ based its ruling on a previous judgment it had issued on April 6, 2020, in a petition by the Israel Bar Association against the Minister of Public Security (HCJ 2234/20), dealing with the prison conditions during the pandemic, and focusing on prisoners over the age of 60 and those suffering from pre-existing conditions. The HCJ concluded there was no need to address the demand raised in the petition, as the matter had already been raised as part of the Israel Bar Association’s petition – which was dismissed by a panel of three Justices, who were satisfied that the IPS’ response to the Coronavirus situation was professional and comprehensive. The HCJ thus ignored HaMoked’s claim in its response of June 8, 2020, that the matter of the imprisonment threshold had not been discussed in the hearing or the judgment of the Bar Association’s petition.
HaMoked deplores the fact that the IPS refuses to employ this common and efficient measure to ease the overcrowding in prisons, which would necessarily improve its ability to prevent a severe outbreak of the virus in its facilities.
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