Trends in 2015 inmate figures: Record number of Palestinians held in Israel

Published: 
3 Mar 2016

The last three months of 2015 saw a significant rise in the number of Palestinians being held Israeli custody, in tandem with the rise in violent incidents. The number of administrative detainees as well as the number of women and minors in custody are the highest they have been in years.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, B’Tselem receives monthly updates from the Israel Prison Service (IPS) about the number of prison inmates in its custody. The figures are received a month after the fact and reflect only the number of persons being held on the last day of the month in question. Therefore, Palestinians imprisoned and released in the course of the month do not enter into these figures. B’Tselem also receives updates on the number of prisoners being held by the military: These figures are much lower, and the individuals are held only briefly. They are not included in the information provided below.

At the end of December 2015, the IPS was holding 6,066 Palestinians on what Israel defined as security grounds – the highest number since the end of July 2010. This category does not include Palestinians held for entering Israel without a permit, an act that the authorities consider a criminal offense, notwithstanding that it is substantially different from other criminal offenses.

From the end of September to the end of December 2015, the number of inmates held on security grounds went up by 822 (an increase of 15.6%). The sharpest rise was in October:

Graph: Palestinians held on security grounds – 2015

Throughout 2015, Palestinians comprised more than 40% of all IPS inmates:

Graph: No. of Palestinians as portion of all inmates – 2015

The last quarter of 2015 also saw a marked change in the statistical breakdown of inmates according to the legal category under which they were being held: the portion of sentenced prisoners dropped from 64.7% to 56.8%, while that of administrative detainees rose from 6% to 9.6% and persons remanded in custody rose from 26% to 28.7%.

Remand in custody

At the end of December 2015, the IPS was holding 1,740 Palestinians who were remanded in custody - out of a total of 6,066 Palestinians held on grounds of security. In a recent report, B’Tselem identified remand in custody as the rule rather than the exception in military courts. This injurious pattern leads to most indictments ending in plea bargains, as defendants realize that even if they would eventually be exonerated at the end of a lengthy trial, they would end up spending more time behind bars than if they take the sentence offered in a plea bargain.

Graph: Inmates: Breakdown by legal status – 2015

Administrative detainees

At the end of December 2015 the IPS had 584 administrative detainees in its custody. In the last quarter of 2015, the number of administrative detainees held by the IPS rose by 269, or 85.4%. The number of administrative detainees at the end of the year is the highest since September 2008, and it includes six minors and three women:

Graph: Administrative detainees – 2015

The sharpest rise was in October. This trend is also reflected in IPS figures* for administrative detainees detained and released every month throughout 2015.

Graph: Administrative detainees – jailed and released – 2015

* The figures are presented as they were sent to B’Tselem by the IPS, despite occasional minor contradictions between the monthly jailing and release data when compared with the data on all administrative detainees held by the IPS, shown above.

Israel’s security establishment makes sweeping, unlawful use of administrative detention: without transparency, under cover of classified information, detainees are arrested and held without being informed why and what the allegations are against them. Although detainees are brought before judicial review for the detention order to be approved, most of the material that the prosecution submits to the judge is classified, so the detainees and their counsel are not granted permission to see it, do not know what evidence - if any - there is against them and so cannot attempt to refute it. The detainees also do not know when they will be released: while a single detention order can be issued for up to six months, orders can be renewed indefinitely. Moreover, the security establishment sometimes exploits the secrecy surrounding this procedure to detain people for offenses they are suspected of having already committed, doing so simply to avoid exposing the evidence it has against these individuals, which would come out in a trial. This contradicts the basic justification for administrative detention, which is preventing future danger

Minors

At the end of 2015, the IPS was holding 422 Palestinian minors on security grounds, including eight girls. That is the highest figure since the IPS began, in August 2008, to include detainees from East Jerusalem in the figures its sends to B’Tselem. The sharpest rise in the number of minors in custody was in October.

Graph: Minors in custody – 2015

Along with the sharp rise in the number of minors held in custody since October 2015, the age of these minors dropped: in the last quarter of 2015, the proportion of minors in custody under the age of 14 rose from 0% to 1% and of minor between the age of 14 and 16 rose by 11.7%:

Graph: Minors in custody, by age group – 2015

As of October, Israel has again held minors in administrative detention for the first time since December 2011: four were reported at the end of October, five at the end of November, and six at the end of December, all between the ages of 16 and 18. Their detention orders were all issued for three months at most, but as noted, this can be extended indefinitely. The number of minors being held in administrative detention by the IPS at the end of December 2015 was the highest since the end of February 2009.

Women

Very few Palestinian women are imprisoned in Israel on security grounds compared to men. Nonetheless, their number almost doubled from the end of September (23 women in IPS custody) the end of December (44 women). This is the highest number of Palestinian women held by the IPS since the end of September 2009. Some of the female inmates reported are administrative detainees: At the end of April, one woman was listed as an administrative detainee; at the end of November, again one was listed; and at the end of December, three women were listed as administrative detainees. To the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, the last time the IPS held a woman in administrative detention was at the end of March 2012.

Graph: Women in custody – 2015

The last quarter of 2015 saw a marked rise in the number of minors among Palestinian women imprisoned in Israel on security grounds. The 14 to 16 age group rose from 0% to 9.1%, and the 16 to 18 age group from 4.3% to 9.1%. At the end of December 2015, the IPS was holding 8 female Palestinian minors – the highest figure since the IPS began, in August 2008, to include detainees from East Jerusalem in the figures its sends to B’Tselem.

Graph: Women in custody, by age group – 2015