Burg Under Fire for ‘inhumane’ Conditions in Israel’s Prisons

Interior Minister Yosef Burg is under fire for what has been described as intolerable conditions in Israel’s prisons. A prison service investigating committee released a report which said that Burg was responsible for these conditions and recommended that the prison services should be removed from the interior Ministry. It also suggested tearing down several of the prison buildings because they are “unfit for human habitation.”

The committee, which was appointed in January 1979 by Supreme Court Justice Yoel Sussman following widespread criticism of conditions in prisons, presented a gloomy picture of the present situation. “The conditions are so serious, so inhumane that the prisons are on the verge of explosion,” the committee’s report stated.

The report dealt primarily with the overcrowded living conditions in 15 prisons, most of them in Israel proper. In the case of the prison in Ramle, the report said that 500 of the 650 inmates are held in “sub-human, overcrowded living conditions.” According to former prison services officials, inmates are confined to cells which average two to three square meters, whereas international standards set a minimum of eight square meters for each prisoner.

The committee, which is limited to making recommendations, has submitted a preliminary report to Premier Menachem Begin. A second and perhaps third report are expected. In his initial reaction, Burg said he had not yet read the report, but added that the committee was formed at his request.

CITES TOO MANY AREAS OF RESPONSIBILITY

The committee, in its report, said Burg had too many areas of responsibility and therefore did not pay the necessary attention to the prisons. Burg, among other responsibilities, has served during the greater part of his term as chairman of the Israeli team involved in the autonomy negotiations with Egypt. The committee also stated that the merger between the Interior and Police Ministries, which was introduced for the first time under the Likud government, did not result in the expected improvements in prison conditions.

Haim Levy, former prison service commissioner, said the report proved his long-standing complaints about prison conditions. He supported the suggestion that the responsibility for the prisons be removed from the Interior Ministry.

Mordechai Virshubsky, a Shinui Knesset member, submitted an urgent motion to the Knesset agenda asking for a discussion on the prisons. He, too, demanded that Burg relinquish the responsibility for prison services, noting that the Interior Minister had proved that he was unable to cope with his many tasks.

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