Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has expressed concern that a law advanced by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir that bans the early release of prisoners sentenced for light security offenses will lead to overcrowding in prisons, Hebrew media reported Tuesday.
Under the previous law, security prisoners serving sentences of up to three years — usually for rock-throwing, rioting, and unlawful possession of weapons — could qualify for administrative release several weeks before the end of their term to make room for those imprisoned for more severe terror offenses.
The Israel Hayom daily and Channel 12 news reported that Bar expressed his opposition to the law, set to go into effect Friday, at a security cabinet meeting last week.
According to Channel 12, Ben Gvir has insisted that there is enough room in prisons, but the Israel Prison Service has asserted that is not the case.
The passing of the law in the final week of the Knesset sitting in July went under the media’s radar, as it was approved around the same time as the “reasonableness” law, the first part of the coalition’s controversial judicial overhaul package, which sparked chaotic, nationwide protests.
Senior officials inside the defense establishment told Israel Hayom that the law would harm the ability of security forces to detain suspects involved in more serious crimes, as it is already dealing with a high volume of prisoners amid the ongoing wave of terrorism.
Senior officials in the IPS were quoted as saying: “The situation is severe, this is a national crisis, it’s really a catastrophe.”
The Shin Bet said it does not respond to requests for comments on closed door meetings.
Unnamed sources close to Ben Gvir told Channel 12 that the minister would not continue the policy and accused the commander of the IPS of “folding to security prisoners.”
Responding to the Israel Hayom report, Ben Gvir said he was “not prepared that on my watch there will be shortened sentences for those who work to erase the State of Israel.”
“At the same time, in light of the overcrowding and the fact the IPS cannot handle the load, an administrative shortcut will be given to people who commit minor criminal offenses and white collar offenses — the main reason is not to release terrorists. Security prisoners and detainees will always have a place in prisons,” he said.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Ben Gvir emphasized that he will not change his position despite criticism from the Shin Bet and IPS.
Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben Ari, a former chair of the Knesset’s Public Security Committee (now National Security), said: “The populist and irresponsible decision of Ben Gvir to cancel administrative releases of security prisoners sentenced to up to three years, without giving additional possibilities to prison facilities, is overflowing the security prisons, and now there is no room to put more dangerous prisoners.”
Israel has been challenged to stand by the conditions set by a 2017 High Court ruling that ordered the state to provide every prisoner with at least 4 square meters of living space — a figure that is still far less than the average 8-9 square meters (26-30 square feet) in the Western world.