According to the Prison Ordinance, all judges in Israel, including Supreme Court justices, are official inspectors in prisons by virtue of their appointment. Justices of the Supreme Court are authorized to inspect all prisons, and district and magistrate court justices are authorized to conduct official visits to any prison within their jurisdiction. They are entitled to enter the prison at any time, even without prior notice, and to examine the conditions, the treatment of inmates, and the proper management. However, the judicial system is not organized or operating to ensure regular official visits by judges. In practice, very few judges voluntarily conduct official visits.
On December 10, 2023, a request was made to the President of the Supreme Court to instruct judges in various jurisdictions to fulfill their duty and conduct visits to prisons. In the legal correspondence, attorney Oded Feller, the Head of ACRI's Legal Department, argued that just as the judicial system schedules rotations in courts, it should also schedule frequent visits by judges to all prisons. The purpose of these visits is to ensure that even when there is a necessity for incarceration, it will not be cruel, inhumane, degrading, and that the human rights of prisoners will not be violated unnecessarily, with any violation being minimal. The official inspection reports by judges will shed light on the conditions in prisons and help mitigate severe phenomena observed during visits and from inmates' testimonies.
Attorney Feller emphasized that judge visits to prisons should be conducted on regular days and on a frequent basis during this period of time, especially against the backdrop of the "carceral emergency" declared in prisons since the beginning of the war and its implications on the rights of prisoners and incarceration conditions. Prisons have started to receive harsh testimonies about abuse and human rights violations, particularly of security detainees. Moreover, six Palestinian prisoners have died in the custody of prison and military authorities since the outbreak of the war.
"We request that judges immediately visit prisons and fulfill the duty imposed on them by the legislator on this matter," the correspondence states. "Once the prison service knows that it is subject to frequent scrutiny by judges – it should be expected to ensure the human rights of those under its custody."
In response to our request, we received a response (Hebrew) from the office of the Acting President of the Supreme Court. The response stated that visits by Supreme Court judges to various prison facilities are expected to take place soon, and that the Director of Courts will refresh the importance of carefully conducting visits to prison facilities even in times of emergency to the presidents of the district courts and the magistrates' courts.