On 17 April 2008, Adalah filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel demanding that the court compel the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to put an end to the existing discrimination against Arab prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons and allow them to receive education in Arabic. The petition was filed by Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker in Adalah’s own name and on behalf of the Legal Clinic for Prisoners’ Rights and Rehabilitation at Haifa University’s Faculty of Law.
The IPS runs a number of educational programs inside its prisons on various levels. As regards official education, it has created educational programs designed to enable adult prisoners to complete their basic education to the equivalent of 12th grade and to receive a final certificate.
A special department in the MOE that deals with adult education throughout the state, including in prisons, prepares the educational program for basic education. In addition, the IPS holds enrichment workshops for prisoners in the fields of the family, sport, physical and psychological health, addictions, culture, art, and other subjects. However, education is offered in prisons only in Hebrew, including education provided to political prisoners classified by the IPS as “security prisoners.”
Significantly, the educational and cultural programs that the MOE provides for adults outside prisons and in various Arab towns and villages in the state are taught in Arabic, which means that according to current policy, Arab adults are entitled to education in Arabic if they are not in prison, but if they are imprisoned then they are stripped of this basic right to education in Arabic. An Arab prisoner who does not know how to read or write is therefore unable to learn in Arabic, and as a result an illiterate prisoner will remain illiterate, where as Jewish prisoners can study in their mother tongue whether inside or outside of prison.
In the petition, Attorney Baker argued that preventing adult Arab prisoners from receiving a basic education in their own language constitutes a blatant violation of their rights to education, equality, dignity, personal autonomy, language, and freedom of expression and occupation (employment). Attorney Baker also emphasized that this illegal policy contradicts prior decisions of the Supreme Court as well as international human rights conventions and standards relating to prisoners’ rights, according to which prisoners do not lose their human rights but retain them even while they are in prison.
As the petitioners stressed, education in prisons is extremely important, as it enables prisoners to develop skills, and learn social conduct and principles that will help them to reintegrate into society and strengthen their relationships with members of their families. Therefore, denying the right to education to Arab prisoners, who make up around 40% of the total number of prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons, impairs their ability to educate themselves and reintegrate into society after their release from prison.
The petition drew on academic research that demonstrates that there is a strong relationship between the educational and training programs that prisoners take and rates of re-imprisonment. According to this research, the more a prisoner receives a high level of education, the lower the chances of his or her returning to prison after being released.
Affidavits obtained from prisoners and appended to the petition reveal that prisoners feel ashamed and humiliated in front of their children because they are unable to help them to complete their homework or to read a newspaper.
The IPS has argued that it is not responsible for educating adult prisoners and that it is only obliged to educate imprisoned minors in Arabic. The MOE has argued that the educational programs that it has prepared for prisoners include education in Arabic. On the ground, however, Arab prisoners can only take classes conducted in Hebrew.
H.C. __/08, Adalah and the Legal Clinic for Prisoners’ Rights and Rehabilitation v. the Israel Prison Service and the Ministry of Education (pending)