Demanding Better Transportation Conditions for Prisoners in Israel Prison Service Vehicles

HCJ 1482/08 Adalah et al. v. The Israel Prison Service, et al.

Adalah: “Prisoners are transported by the Israel Prison Service in conditions that violate their constitutional rights to freedom, dignity, minimal living conditions in prison, medical treatment and access to the courts.”

On 14 February 2008, Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Legal Clinic for Prisoners’ Rights and Rehabilitation at Haifa University’s Faculty of Law petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel demanding that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Ministry of  Public Security improve the conditions in which prisoners are transported in IPS vehicles. Specifically, the petitioners demanded that the prisoners: spend less time waiting in the vehicles; be allowed toilet breaks during transportation; and receive a set daily meal and water during long journeys, which they are currently denied. The petitioners also sought special vehicles for ill prisoners and additional vehicles. Attorney Abeer Baker submitted the petition on behalf of the three organizations.

Approximately 1,800 prisoners (including detainees and sentenced prisoners) are transported daily in IPS vehicles – known as “Posta” vehicles – to various destinations within Israel. Some are transferred from one prison to another, while others are transported to court hearings and to receive medical treatment.

According to testimonies obtained from prisoners, these journeys cause a great deal of suffering both due to the long and exhausting hours of travel (in some cases twelve consecutive hours) and because of the extremely uncomfortable conditions within the vehicles. The prisoners report, for example, suffering from pain, hunger and thirst as a result of the denial of access to toilet facilities, food and water. They are also forced to sit in pain for hours on metal seats without backrests or padding. Their movement is severely restricted: prisoners are made to sit with their hands and feet shackled, and are sometimes shackled to each another. Prisoners who are transported for medical treatment suffer doubly, especially those whose medical problem makes it difficult for them to sit in the first place, such as those with back problems, as the petitioners argued.

The escort vehicles are divided into cells which have small air vents. Sometimes the air conditioner is left running for many hours, until it is “freezing” in the cell, while at other times, on hot summer days the air conditioner is not turned on at all. Some vehicles have no air conditioning.

Complaints about the transport conditions in escort vehicles have been submitted to the IPS and Ministry of Public Security for years by many groups, including the organizations that filed the petition, as well as other human rights groups, judges, Members of Knesset and the Office of the Public Defender. In response to the complaints the IPS has claimed that the conditions in the vehicles had been improved. However, research conducted by the petitioners revealed that the conditions remain substandard and violate the rights of prisoners.

The petitioners argued that the substandard conditions of transportation obstruct the prisoners in exercising their rights. For example, many prisoners choose to refrain from fully exercising their constitutional rights, such as the right to approach the courts and the right to receive medical treatment, in order to avoid the injury and degradation entailed in transit to courts and hospitals. The petitioners emphasized that the humiliating conditions violate the prisoners’ constitutional rights to freedom, dignity, minimal living conditions in prison, medical treatment and access to the courts disproportionately. This is, in violation of the Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and in contradiction of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and several international human rights conventions prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Students from the University of Haifa’s Prisoner Rights Clinic, Arga Melul and Yoav Degani, were of great assistance in the drafting of the petition.

 H.C. 1482/08, Adalah et al. v. The Israel Prison Service, et al. (case pending)

The Petition (Hebrew)