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Israeli Supreme Court Orders Increased Personal Space for Prisoners

by Monte McCoin 

Researcher Lila Margalit, with the Israel Democracy Institute’s Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Center for Security and Democracy, published a blog entry on June 7, 2018 that detailed a landmark 2017 judgment entered by the Israeli Supreme Court. The decision established a minimum area of personal space for both detainees and convicted prisoners in Israel’s penal system.

Margalit wrote that the average space allocated to each prisoner was only 3.16 square meters (just over 34 square feet) at the time of the high court’s ruling. The decision set an 18-month deadline for Israeli prison officials to ensure that each prisoner receive at least four square meters of personal space; an additional square half-meter of space was required for cells with an integrated toilet and shower.

Israeli jurisprudence has long relied on a prisoner’s right to dignity as a core principle in determining acceptable conditions of confinement. Margalit wrote about past judicial decisions that included the right of prisoners to receive private medical care from physicians not associated with the prison system. The dignity principle also led the court to uphold voting rights for prisoners, as well as the right to write and publish newspaper articles.

The European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment previously developed international standards which factored heavily into the Israeli Supreme Court’s personal space measurements; the Israeli government’s own regulations require new prison construction to include 4.5 meters of living area per prisoner.

According to Margalit, there is “room for cautious optimism” that the Supreme Court ruling will have a positive impact on Israel’s criminal justice system by improving the lives of detainees held in the nation’s prisons. 



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