Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry told a Knesset hearing on Monday that more than 300 prison escapes have been foiled over the past decade.
“The threat of escape is the biggest threat, and it is at the top of the agenda of every officer,” Perry told the Knesset Public Security Committee. “Around 300 escape attempts and escape plans were thwarted over the past decade.”
Perry said prison officials have worked to “eradicate crime within prisons, collect intelligence information, and thwart” prison breaks. Perry, who was sworn in as commissioner of the Israel Prisons Service in January, said there are approximately 14,000 prisoners — around 4,000 security prisoners and approximately 10,000 criminals — in 30 facilities across the country.
The prisons chief addressed the hearing a week after the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from the high-security Gilboa Prison, one of the worst such incidents in Israel’s history. Four of the prisoners were captured by police over the weekend, but two remain at large as of Monday afternoon.
Perry said that since the prison break occurred, she has taken a series of steps in reaction to the incident, including boosting security at prisons and dispersing security prisoners linked to the Islamic Jihad.
In addition, she said, she established a team together with the military and other officials, “which is going cell by cell and wing by wing” in each prison in order “to check the engineering of the buildings, to see the blueprints and to check what is underground” beneath the facilities.
The six fugitives made their escape by digging through the concrete and metal rebar flooring in their bathroom and removing a slab that led to a series of gaps in the prison’s structure. They used these to leave the compound underground and then tunneled their way up to a road on the south side of the facility.
Prison officials have been aware of this structural problem in Gilboa Prison — that there are large gaps in the prison floors and walls that can be used for escape — since 2014, when the service foiled a nearly identical escape attempt by eight inmates, also members of Islamic Jihad.
But on Monday, Perry urged against jumping to conclusions before the commission of inquiry ordered by Public Security Minister Omer Barlev could complete its work.
“I recommend letting the committee finish its work and finish its investigation” before making significant decisions, she said.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.