Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Military correctional reform -- a 20-year anniversary in Israel

Corrections systems are among the least-studied aspects of military justice. Haaretz's Gili Cohen has this interesting article about the IDF's internal prison system. Twenty years ago after an inmates' revolt, reforms are afoot. Excerpt:
The army is hoping to address most of the defects in the military prisons with the move to a new facility currently being built near Beit Lid in central Israel. The military courts will also move to the new compound, named Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”), meaning soldiers will not have to be moved in handcuffs from the Military Police to the Military Advocate General and the courts – all will be contained within the compound. The number of inmates per cell will be cut from 10 to seven. Still, even in the new compound some inmates will have to live in tents. “It’s the army, after all,” a senior officer said.
Senior commanders criticized the project even during the planning stage, wondering how it was possible to justify better facilities in a military prison than on an army base. They are still criticizing today, noting that medical care in a military prison is better than in units, and that a soldier says he was never given any educational activities until he was behind bars. 
The IDF General Staff initially set the completion date for the new compound at 2017. But by the time the cornerstone was laid, that date had already been pushed back a year. Now the IDF and Defense Ministry are looking at completion in 2020. Meanwhile, prisons with poor facilities continue to take in prisoners and the army is investing money mainly in cosmetic changes. For example, it was decided not to install air-conditioning in cells because of the cost; instead, two fans have been placed in each cell. 
By 2020, the army plans to complete its prison reform. In light of the poor facilities and ineffectual rehabilitation (only 10 percent of soldiers remain in prison for more than 28 days), the first step will be to reduce the number of incarcerated soldiers. 
“First of all, we dealt with the philosophical question: why are soldiers imprisoned?” a senior officer in the Manpower Directorate said. When senior commanders were told too many soldiers were being sent to jail, the message got through. For example, the senior officer said that in Central Command, the number of soldiers sent to prison has dropped by 30 percent. “Why did this happen? Because we set a goal of fewer prisoners,” he said, adding it did not necessarily mean that Central Command had a lower level of discipline because fewer infractions were being punished by prison terms.

Alternatives to prison 
The plan, reported here for the first time, includes comprehensive changes. The powers of commanders to sentence soldiers to military prison will be curbed, but they will be able to confine soldiers to base for longer periods. 
There will also be alternatives to prison – for example, deserters will be subject to civilian sanctions such as not being allowed to leave the country. Prison facilities in the units themselves will be expanded and units will be evaluated by the number of soldiers being sent to prison, including comparative statistics to be presented to the IDF General Staff.

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