Supreme Court: Prisoners Should Have Access to Books

CC by somegeekintn

In a ruling today (2 April 2012) by the retiring Supreme Court President, Justice Dorit Beinisch, the court ordered the Israeli Prison Service to change its updated Commission Orders, which stipulated that prisoners were not allowed to hold more than one book in their cell or to receive books from visitors. This ends a legal battle of more than three years, conducted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and by two inmates from the Neveh Tirtza women’s prison.
In June 2009, two inmates from the Neveh Tirtza Prison, together with ACRI, petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court – requesting to cancel the new restrictions set by the Prison Service regarding books and CDs in prison cells.
In the petition, ACRI attorney Lila Margalit argued that these new restrictions infringed on the prisoners’ freedom of expression and on their right to acquire knowledge and education. The restrictions stipulated that only one fiction book could be held in the cell at any given time (instead of the eight books that were previously allowed completely prohibited receiving books from visitors (instead of the permission to receive five books every two months, which was in effect prior to that). Prisoners that wished to receive fiction books had to make do with the meager selection in the prison library or to purchase the books through the cantina. The District Court rejected this petition, and an appeal was then submitted to the Supreme Court.
During the course of these legal proceedings, the Prison Service has declared a substantial change to the new policy: inmates will be allowed to receive two books a month from their visitors (i.e. four books every two months) and will be allowed to hold three books in their cells. The Supreme Court stressed that access to books is part and parcel of the prisoners’ freedom of expression, and therefore they must be allowed to receive books from visitors and to hold these books in their cells. The court noted that the Prison Service’s declarations regarding a change of policy are not enough – and that this change must be anchored in its orders.
According to attorney Lila Margalit, “the severe restrictions that the Prison Service has placed upon access to books and to music have infringed on the basic rights of the prisoners – the right to freedom of expression and the right to acquire knowledge and education – and have even harmed the public interest in the rehabilitation of prisoners. The Supreme Court was right not to be satisfied with the Prison Service’s declarations regarding policy change and to demand an actual change in the Prison Service Commission Orders.”
The Supreme Court decision (Hebrew)

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Categories: Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, Social and Economic Rights, The Right to Education

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