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Prison overcrowding means fewer terrorists arrested, Shin Bet warns

Starting in September, “light” terrorists can’t be paroled under administrative release, exacerbating the congestion.

Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar is seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the semiannual priestly blessing ceremony for Passover, April 9, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar is seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the semiannual priestly blessing ceremony for Passover, April 9, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) Director Ronen Bar told the Cabinet earlier this month that overcrowding in Israeli prisons is endangering the nation’s citizens by forcing the IDF to scale back arrests of terrorists.

Other senior security officials have been warning that a law set to take effect in September, which will prevent the administrative parole of terrorists who are incarcerated for relatively minor offenses that carry sentences of up to three years, will exacerbate the overcrowding, thus preventing the imprisonment of more serious offenders.

Administrative parole allows authorities to release prisoners for the final few weeks of their sentence as a means of freeing up cell space. It is also designed to help improve the conditions in prisons in compliance with court rulings that have slammed the Israel Prison Service for housing inmates in overcrowded cells.

The use of the procedure had been limited to those who were imprisoned for rock-throwing and rioting but not deadly acts. The new law means that their release will no longer be possible under this mechanism.

Israel Hayom recently reported that potential “ticking time bombs” were not being arrested because of the lack of room in Israeli prisons. The IDF has scaled back administrative detentions after the Israel Prison Service said it could no longer handle the volume of detainees.

“We have reached a situation in which when we look at the arrest list, we ultimately have to strike out names because there is no room in prison,” an official said.

In 2021, some 450 administrative detentions were recorded, while in 2022 this spiked to 900 in the wake of the uptick in Palestinian terrorism. So far in 2023, more than 500 Palestinians have been arrested using this procedure.

But in light of the situation in Israeli prisons this has slowed of late, and in some cases resulted in arrests not being carried out.

According to Israel Hayom‘s reporting, the Prison Service made several requests to end or lower the intensity of arrest efforts because they could not properly handle the inflow of inmates. The IDF heeded the requests.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has championed the new law that limits the early parole of light offenders under administrative release, said, “I cannot accept under my watch that someone who wants to eliminate the state would have his sentence shortened.”

He added that non-terrorist prisoners will continue to be released under the procedure.

“Terrorists will always have room in prison,” Ben-Gvir said.

The Shin Bet declined to issue a comment on Bar’s warning.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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