Court orders State to provide bed for every prisoner

In a decisive ruling, the High Court accepted the petition submitted by ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and ordered the State to provide a bed for every prisoner and to end the practice of forcing prisoners to sleep on the floor.

On 12 February 2007, the High Court of Justice accepted the petition submitted by Attorney Dori Spivak, Director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Tel Aviv University Law School, (and newly elected chairman of ACRI’s Board), to demand that every prisoner and detainee be provided with a bed, and that the practice of forcing prisoners to sleep on the floor be prohibited. The Court’s ruling obligates the State to provide a bed for every prisoner. The Court went on to say that any digression from this obligation, which must be implemented by July 1 2007, could only be justified in rare and exceptional cases. The petition was submitted on behalf of the organizations ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.

Supreme Court Justice, Ayala Procaccia, who headed the panel of Justices, stated that the right to sleep on a bed is a basic component of minimal living conditions and that any infringement of this represents a violation of the right to a dignified existence. She further added that the punishment of imprisonment, which is imposed upon an individual, does not render him/her devoid of human rights that he/she is legally entitled by Israeli law.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS), the petition states, practices a policy of bedding prisoners on the floor in extremely overcrowded conditions. (In an amended statement by the state that was submitted to the High Court of Justice prior to the hearing of the current petition, it stated that as of 22.5.05, 392 prisoners were sleeping on the floor).

The petition further states that the conditions of severe overcrowding in the prisons, and the practice of bedding prisoners on the floor, has profound implications on the physical, mental and behavioral health of the prisoners. The issue is not just one of providing a comfortable sleeping arrangement, Attorney Spivak adds, the moment that the mattresses are laid on the floor between existing beds in the cell, a situation is created in which the cell’‘s inhabitants are almost unable to move. This in turn provides fertile ground for potentially violent physical and verbal confrontations between prisoners. Moreover, the ongoing tensions and the lack of minimal personal living space exacerbate the emotional distress of those residing in the cell. These claims are supported both by statements made by the former IPS Commissioner, Orit Adato, that appears in the petition, and in a statement of opinion written by Psychiatric expert, Dr. Zeev Weiner. Dr Weiner concurs with these statements and bases his support on evidence gathered by numerous research studies that focused on the mental health of prisoners. According to the statement of opinion, extremely difficult prison conditions, which include overcrowding and a lack of privacy, are liable to increase the danger significantly, which is already high, of prisoners becoming mentally ill, even to the point of suicide and the development of psychiatric syndromes, in some cases chronic, that can cause them to be severely functionally impaired.

Attorney Spivak also notes that the right of a prisoner to reasonable prison conditions, including a bed for the night, is protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, both through a number of High Court rulings, and through the provisions of international law, irrespective of a particular state’‘s financial difficulties.

last updated : 18/02/07

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Categories: Democracy and Civil Liberties


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