Court Delays Israel’s First Private Prison

JERUSALEM — Israel’s first private prison will not open as scheduled after a seven-justice high court panel issued an open-ended order prohibiting the launch of the new $60 million facility.

The order will remain in place until issues surrounding the constitutional legality of prison privatization are resolved by the courts, according to the ruling. The 800-bed minimum- and medium-security facility was scheduled to open in June.

The joint venture of Africa-Israel investments and Minrav holdings recently completed construction work on the facility, which is located near the city of Be’er Sheva in Israel’s southern Negev desert.

Under the terms of the project contract signed with the Israeli government in 2007, the joint venture also holds the 25-year franchise to operate the prison.

The high court ruling stems from a 2005 lawsuit that claims the privatization of prisons constitutes an unconstitutional transfer of the-use-of-force authority statutorily reserved for the state. The Academic Center of Law and Business filed the suit challenging the legality of prison privatization after the Knesset’s 2004 amendment of Israeli law to permit the state to issue prison build-operate tenders to private entities.

The state argues the prison privatization model it is pursuing would improve prison conditions and the quality of services, and reduce overcrowding and operating costs.

The Israeli Prison Service operates 28 facilities with a total rated capacity of nearly 23,800 beds. The total prison population increased from 9,400 inmates to almost 23,000 inmates since 2000, according to the most recent data.

Privatization will not yield cost efficiencies or solve systemic problems of overcrowding and poor conditions as claimed by the government, according to the suit.

Plaintiffs, who include a former prison service administrator and an inmate at Ma’asiyahu Prison, also argue privatization will negatively impact the rights of inmates and correctional officers and undermine rehabilitation services and public security.

The private entity, which constructs and operates the facility, would assume responsibility for the protection of inmates’ rights and be required to adhere to standard prison service practices and procedures, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

The state, which plans to station a monitor at the private facility, would retain overall control over inmate classification, placement and punishment, and supervise the training and performance of private staff, officials say.