More prisoners should be rehabilitated, and fewer should be incarcerated. That’s what a prosecution task force recently recommended. A similar recommendation was made by a public commission two years ago.
The public commission based their recommendation on several studies, which found no evidence that longer jail sentences act as a deterrent. The Justice Ministry assembled an internal task force to study the public commission’s findings. The latest report is the result of the investigation.
But is rehabilitation the answer to criminal behavior in Israel? In other countries, like Norway, it is.
Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal, member of the Israeli commission and dean of Haifa University’s law school, said the task force’s report is “one of the most important and comprehensive policy documents the prosecution has ever issued.”
If the recommendations were adopted, the justice system would see radical changes. Israel would see a spike in people sentenced to rehabilitation instead of jail time.
The task force recommended that convicts be sentenced to rehabilitation for crimes that have short prison sentences (up to around 2 years), provided the social worker’s evaluation determines that rehabilitation would be effective.
Most convicts are given short-term prison sentences in Israel. More than half of the prisoners in 2015 were given a sentence of one year or less, and three quarters were given sentences of two years or less.
The report recommends rehabilitation for first-time offenders. It also recommends rehabilitation in cases where drug addicts who repeatedly commit property crimes in order to finance their addiction.
“Drug crimes can come in many forms, and multiple charges might be brought against you for the same activity,” says attorney Nick Woolridge. “However, in many cases, especially first time offenses, a reduced sentence can be negotiated.”
But for those who repeatedly commit the same crimes to finance their addiction, rehabilitation may help the convict turn a new leaf and start a new life.
The proposed criminal justice changes sound great on paper, but there are obvious concerns. One of the main issues is the reliability of social worker evaluations. Social workers are often pressured to slant their evaluations or fail to verify claims made by defendants.
Ultimately, it is still up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek rehabilitation or jail time. Prosecutors often aim for hefty sentences, so there’s concern whether the option would get much use.
With all that said, rehabilitation can be a successful solution.
“The Social Costs of Incarceration,” a study on imprisonment and the return to a normal life, found that the Norwegian prison system, which focuses on labor training while serving prison time, provides good results.
The study found that five years after conviction, there is a 27% lower risk that convicts will return to prison. The country has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, at 20%.
Many of their prisons attempt to maintain a sense of “normalcy.” There are no bars on the windows. And the focus is on teaching responsibility and training for work outside of prison.
Rehabilitation can be successful at reducing recidivism rates, but Israel’s justice system may not be prepared for such radical change.