Opening to escape tunnel
Opening to escape tunnelPhoto: Prison Services

Today (Wednesday), the government investigation committee into the incident in which security prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison submitted its conclusions to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The committee was chaired by retired judge Prof. Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Menachem Finkelstein, and Prof. Efrat Shoham and Eric Barbing were on the committee. Prof. Finkelstein served as Vice President of the Central District Court, Prof. Shoham is the Head of Criminology at Ashkelon Academic College, and Barbing was the head of the Cyber Unit in the Shabak.

The report contains about 400 pages and is entirely accessible to all without any section being classified. The conclusions were reached unanimously.

The committee heard over 50 witnesses, some of them in several hearings (their testimonies are spread over 6,500 pages of minutes), and examined over 60,000 documents from the prison service and other parties. The committee learned about the functioning of the security wings in the prisons and they were impressed with how the Israeli Security Service protects the State of Israel and with the challenging work of the guards whose goal is to make sure that criminal and security prisoners are kept in legal custody.

In connection with the escape of the prisoners, the committee found failures and deficiencies in all the core areas of Prison Services that deal with security prisoners: the operations, the intelligence, the prisoner transfers, and the treatment of the security prisoners. These failures and deficiencies made the escape possible. Most of them are not limited to the Gilboa prison. The committee made pointed systemic recommendations in these areas, and their application is required to prevent future escapes.

The committee also dealt with other relevant issues, such as the case of the mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse of female guards at Gilboa prison, which has not been dropped from the public agenda, and the appointment of senior Prison Services officers.

In the course of its work, the committee warned four senior officers that they might be harmed by its conclusions and recommendations. The issuance of the warnings led to a second phase of discussions, in which the warned individuals were represented by lawyers. The committee found failures or deficiencies for all four officers in various command and professional aspects and at different levels of severity. After balancing these failures and deficiencies with the many positive activities of each officer, the committee decided to recommend the following:

(a) It was deemed appropriate that Gen. Freddy Ben Shitrit, who was Gilboa Prison Warden at the time of the breakout, should finish his post and no longer hold a command-operational position in the Prison Services. This recommendation was redundant since Ben Shitrit had already finished his service in the Prison Service.

(b) Israel Police Northern Command Commander Commissioner Arik Yaacov, will finish his duties by the end of September 2023 and will not be appointed to a command position in the operational field during his career in the Prison Services.

(c) Deputy Warden of the prison and head of Security and Operations, Moni Bitan, will not be penalized at this time. However, if his promotion to warden arises, the results of this investigation will be taken into consideration.

(d) Prison Commissioner Katy Perry will not be removed from her position and the committee is satisfied with the issues raised concerning her performance.

The committee calls on the political leadership to promote adapting the Prison Services to evolving contemporary conditions and its essential mission. They hope that the report will bring about improved functioning and strengthening of the personnel in the prisons.

Gilboa Prison
Gilboa PrisonPhoto: Israel Prison Services

In the investigation report, the committee wrote that the Prison Services culture seems to prefer quiet and routine over maintaining vigilance over security prisoners. According to the report, they should have taken steps to correct this even given the lack of sufficient guidance from the political leadership.

Prison Commissioner Katy Perry responded to the report investigating the security prisoners’ escape: “I went through a very difficult period, but now justice has been done. I intend to study the report in depth and to make sure all the deficiencies will be corrected.”