Kenneth Ryesky

In jail or just visiting

The board game “Monopoly,” in all of its worldwide versions, has a space designated as the “Jail.” In the play of the game, a player becomes a jail inmate by (1) landing on the “Go to Jail” space; (2) drawing a Community Chest card or a Chance card that reads “Go to Jail”; or (3) rolling doubles three successive times during the same turn. A player whose roll of the dice merely lands the token on the “Jail” space is “Just Visiting” and not imprisoned in the jail.

Every time I ever was in a jail it was in the “Just Visiting” status, including visits to the now inoperative facilities of Akko Prison in Acre, and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, each of which is now an historical museum. Anyone can get into the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, New York, but getting out requires specific authorization. In the course of my law practice some years ago I prearranged the exit paperwork there by going to the Suffolk County Jail and being issued a special identification card by the Suffolk County Sheriff, but the card proved to be unnecessary because none of the criminal cases I handled involved incarceration.


Prisons are notoriously dangerous places. A whole industry of advisory consultation for those facing prison sentences has emerged. At the House Ways & Means Committee hearing of 29 June 2005, the star witness, a prison inmate who was given “John Doe” anonymity, gave testimony on how prison gangs are bought off with protection money from vulnerable prisoners to provide personal security. This “John Doe” purchased his bodily protection by shmeering the Muslim gang in his South Carolina prison.

One key aim of punishing criminals is to rehabilitate them to function in society, but successful rehabilitation of convicted criminals requires more than merely warehousing them in a prison. Rehabilitation of offenders is best achieved by in-prison programs to prepare inmates for reintegration into society after release.  There is no single universal approach; the programs need to be tailored to the individual situation. Interactions with family and friends on the outside can promote successful rehabilitation, and are to be encouraged. Organizations such as the Passover League of Philadelphia and the Aleph Institute, which assist Jewish people who live in situations attenuated from mainstream Jewish communities, target their assistance to prison inmates in addition to the usual fare of military personnel, hospital patients, and old age home residents.

Even the inmates who are serving life terms (or sentences they have no realistic expectations of living to complete) need visitations and support, if not for the humanitarian ideals of compassion then certainly to facilitate the orderly function of the social system behind the locked doors in which they live. The dysfunction of this social system would impede the rehabilitation of those members who will eventually rejoin society at large. As the Gilboa Prison scandal has shown, mismanagement of correctional facilities does not promote rehabilitation (nor another key function of the incarceration process, restraining the criminal).

But dealings and discussions between prisoner and outside individuals can also pervert the rehabilitation process and interfere with the operations of the penal system. As brought out in the aforementioned House Ways & Means subcommittee hearing, outside confederates often materially aid inmates in committing tax fraud.  Outside operatives also can facilitate escape attempts or introduce drugs or other prohibited contraband into the prison. In Israel, there is much controversy over the PA’s so-called “pay to slay” program which financially rewards incarcerated terrorists and their families for killing Jews.


Which brings us to the issue of capital punishment. In the past election, the Otzma Yehudit faction’s platform called for a mandatory death penalty for terrorists who kill Jews. At the other end of the continuum, there are those who take a “no death penalty, no exceptions” stance. In between these two extremes are those, myself included, who, to varying degrees, assert that the death penalty should be in the criminal justice armamentarium as an option when attempts to rehabilitate and/or restrain the criminal would prove futile.

It is only within 48 hours of setting out to write this blogpost that the existence of an organization known as Shlom Asiraich has come to my attention. Shlom Asiraich is an organization that purports to assist prisoners in Israel by lovingly providing material and emotional support to the inmates and their families. To be sure, these are high and noble objectives that should be encouraged.

I learned of Shlom Asiraich through reading a Times of Israel article written by the father of a teenager named Shira Banki, who was killed by an assailant named Yishai Schlissel, who can be described as a Jewish terrorist. Schlissel committed the deadly misdeed less than a month after his release from a 10-year prison stint for a crime virtually identical, although thankfully having no direct lethal consequences. Ori Banki is understandably disgusted that his daughter’s murderer is among Shlom Asiraich’s beneficiaries.

A 10-year prison sentence failed to rehabilitate Yishai Schlissel. The Shira Banki killing demonstrates the need for capital punishment in Israel.


The problem with the Shlom Asiraich organization is that its thrust is specifically directed to Jewish prisoners in Israel whose incarceration is based upon actual or suspected activities which, if done by Arabs, would (and should) spark outrage amongst everyone. For reasons already stated, I have no personal quarrel per se with such benevolence to the prisoners, although I do have the greatest of trouble with the lawless acts some of them have committed; I even could go so far as to say that I share the oppositions to the ideologies and events that are claimed to have been the triggers of the prisoners’ felonious behaviors.

And therein lies the rub. Those who oppose capital punishment must confront the issues of arranging interactions by society at large with the inmates whose lives they would spare. And those (myself included) who advocate capital punishment to any degree must confront the issues of uniform standards for applying the death penalty (which, in Israel, entails executing Jewish terrorists on par with Arab terrorists).

Those who are outraged by organizations that aid the imprisoned so-called “Nationalist Jews” should be outraged no less by the Palestinian Authority’s “pay to slay” policies (and vice versa). This, of course, implicates the inconvenient fact that the Israeli government regularly funds the PA, knowing that much if not most of those funds that do not go into Abbas’s personal coffers will aggrandize terrorists and their families, to the detriment of the needy Arab residents who do not engage in terrorism.

And regardless of one’s posture towards capital punishment or towards assisting prison inmates, the intelligent and orderly management of Israel’s prisons in particular and criminal justice system in general needs to be given serious attention by all.

Sound and effective provisions must be made regarding those who are “In Jail,” as well as for those who are “Just Visiting.”

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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