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6 Human Rights Organizations Call for Release of Prisoners amid Corona Crisis

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The severe crowding in IPS facilities makes it impossible to maintain a two-meter distance between people, as recommended by the Ministry of Health.

On Thursday, March 19, 2020, six human rights organizations contacted the minister of public security, the attorney general and the Pardon Department of the Ministry of Justice to act promptly to reduce prison populations due to the corona pandemic.

The letter was sent on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights Israel; The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Al Mezan Center for Human Rights; The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants; HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and The Public Committee against Torture in Israel.

In their letter, the organizations noted that despite the efforts the Israel Prison Service (IPS) is making to prevent the spread of the virus, prisons cannot be completely isolated from the outside world, and many experts believe preparations must be made for its spread within the prison system. The severe crowding in IPS facilities makes it impossible to maintain a two-meter distance between people, as recommended by the Ministry of Health. In addition to this, about 6,000 inmates who suffer from chronic conditions and hundreds of older inmates are at higher risk for contracting the virus.

In these circumstances, the organizations urged the authorities to take action now, before a prison infection, and use different tools to reduce the prison population, which would decrease the risk of infection and help manage the crisis. The organizations listed several steps the authorities could take, such as releasing prisoners nearing the end of their sentence early (administrative release), using detention alternatives, sending eligible prisoners on vacation and releasing non-dangerous prisoners such as immigrants and refugees held in custody pursuant to the Entry into Israel Law.

Keeping inmates in jail in the current conditions puts both their own health and the health of the IPS staff who come into contact with them at risk and impedes efforts to maintain public health. It also defies both Israeli and international law, which require care for the health of prisoners.