Penetrating The Armor - Rehabilitation Of Security Prisoners, Reality Or Dream?


The discussion about the role of prison in rehabilitating criminal prisoners has, in recent years, become a routine discussion amongst therapy and rehabilitation personnel, and accordingly incarceration organizations around the world have adopted and developed rehabilitation programs whose purpose is to help prisoners who are released to integrated into society as useful people and as such to reduce the changes of their returning to prison. This article proposes a new approach regarding the role of prison in the rehabilitation of security prisoners who have been incarcerated for conducting terror attacks. Prison can become a 'Greenhouse' to rehabilitate these prisoners. Security prisoners are different, however, from criminal prisoners. Often, they exploit their time in prison to recruit support from the outside, to influence other prisoners to side with violence and to make arrangements for their return to the cycle of violence upon their release from jail. Attempts to identify designated plans aimed at rehabilitating the security prison populations show that there are very few such plans, most of which tend to operate to remove terrorist prisoners from the cycle of violence by integrating them into moderate religious educational activities. The aim is to present to decision makers and policy determiners a different view based on giving hope in terms of 'light at the end of the tunnel' to political prisoners upon their release back to the society from whence they came and this through education and knowledge not necessarily focused on religious contexts.

Keywords: Security prisonersprisoner rehabilitationeducation in prison


People are born with a tapestry of qualities and values unique to themselves, and as they grow, they develop into skills and abilities that enable them to build social connections, to adjust to the reality of their natural and social environment and to take decisions in emotional, personal, social and moral contexts.

Mizrachi and Tal (2010) believe that prisoners' entry into prison is an experience that embodies, from their perspective, many hardships deriving from the loss of physical freedom, privacy and isolation from their family and life circles. When their sentence is over and they are released, they are forced, generally, to start their lives without means or social support. Released prisoners are generally exiled, isolated and unemployed, and therefore need help to return to society because of the challenges facing them: finding somewhere to live or alternatively to return to their family cell, finding work, acclimatizing to a new reality and dealing with the tag of prisoner glued to them (Ross & Ryan, 2003). To help prisoners reintegrate into society, many countries design programs to rehabilitate prisoners.

In the state of Israel, there are 33 detention facilities as of May 2017 - 19,703 detainees of whom 5,514 are classified as security prisoners (Prison Services Information Systems). According to the accepted definition in Prison Services' Commissioner's Directive 04.05.00 a security prisoner is a "prisoner who has been convicted and sentenced to prison for offending, or arrested on suspicion of an offence, that according to its nature or circumstances is defined as a clear security offence, or whose motives to commit a crime derived from nationalistic reasons" (translated from Hebrew), that is prisoners who committed the crimes attributed to them from ideological motives. The Israeli Supreme Court determined, more than once, that prisoner rehabilitation plays a dual role, on the one hand the interests of prisoners themselves, so that they will not commit offences again and be punished for them, but no less than this referring to the public interest (Criminal Appeal 11750/04, Anonymous vs. the State of Israel).

This article aims to propose new observations and approaches to the war on terror, innovative in that it proposes a new modus operandi over and above the routine protocol, which is use of securing and intelligence tools to frustrate and prevent terror, but to direct attention to tools that will make use of prisoners' time in prison so as to "persuade" them to make a fundamental, comprehensive, profound and long term internal change of opinions so that on their release they will not return to their cycle of violence.

Attempts to trace studies proposing rehabilitative tools aimed at security prisoners failed; therefore I will propose to isolate one component from the rehabilitation program meant for criminal offenders and try to deduce chances of implementation and success. This component is educational activities within prison walls.

Prisoner Rehabilitation

The Prison Service in Israel is one of the main law enforcement arms in Israel. The key targets of prisons are: punishment, preventing harm to society by distancing prisoners from society and holding them securely while fulfilling the basic needs of prisoners and as a rehabilitative institution (Page, 1998).

Rehabilitation is defined as "readying prisoners to rejoin society, as useful and law-abiding members of the wider community". In this framework prisoners are given basic tools that will enable their assimilation in society after their release. To meet these goals, the Prison Service operates rehabilitative care arrangements providing medical care, social care, psychological care, educational services and professional and employment training. Researchers from the field of behavioral sciences agree, generally, that prisons as facilities whose purpose is a punitive framework do not rehabilitate prisoners. Moreover, prisons even reinforce tendencies to offend. Despite this, there is evidence that specific intensive programs in prison are likely to reduce tendencies to offend and promote prisoner rehabilitation (Von Hirsch, 1976).

The research literature presents several aspects of effective rehabilitation. While these aspects do not guarantee the success of a rehabilitation process, they are an essential foundation of it:

  • Therapeutic sequence - it is important that the rehabilitation process begin as close as possible to prisoners' entry into prison and finish sometime after release, with released prisoners being capable of integrating into society independently (Walsh, 2006). Mizrachi and Tal (2010) clarified that in studies it was found that ongoing and consistent presence in a therapeutic program affects recidivism levels.

  • Employment - one of the critical layers in the rehabilitation of released prisoners is the ability to integrate into employment circles enabling economic independence, therefore in prison, there is professional training that those who integrated into them, turn over a new leaf and become productive citizens.

  • Education - Studies show that prisoners are generally characterized by low education levels relative to the general public (Offenbacher, 1989). Coylewright (2004) believed that education and knowledge programs are a sort of 'second chance' allowing prisoners corrective experiences, which strengthen their self- image and confidence. The higher a released prisoner's level of education, the lower the chances of reoffending.

Seeing prisoners as individuals - one must make sure that prisoners are integrated into a rehabilitation program that suits them from the point of view of characteristics and needs (Mizrachi & Tal, 2010).

Rehabilitation of Security Prisoners

The question of rehabilitating prisoners becomes even sharper when referring to security prisoners.

As a rule, security prisoners, most of whom are not residents of the state of Israel or citizens of the country, do not receive rehabilitation services. Paragraph 11d of the Prison Service Orders in 1971 (in Anonymous V State of Israel Appeal 04/11/1750 Heard on July 30, 2008), determines that the Commissioner of Prisons will examine possibilities of rehabilitating prisoners who are citizens or residents of Israel and take steps to guarantee their optimal integration into rehabilitative activities within prison walls (Avger, 2016). According to the language of this paragraph, security prisoners, residents of the Palestinian Authority are not integrated into rehabilitative therapeutic activities.

We believe that prisoners who do not participate in significant correctional activities have not acquired tools that would help them improve their quality of life, will return to society with negative feelings that will increase the probability of their returning to cycles of crime and continue to be a danger to society. This statement has led to powerful disagreement amongst Prison Service personnel and policy makers regarding the integration of security prisoners, who perpetrated offences for ideological motives and are convinced of the justice of their acts in rehabilitation procedures in prison. The question arising is whether to draw a line between the theoretical desire to remove security prisoners from the circle of fighting the state of Israel by integrating them in rehabilitative routes and professional opposition led by therapy givers regarding low chances of success in light of the difficulty of supervising released prisoners when they are reintegrated in their original communities and their ability to change their approach and cut themselves off from the beliefs that led them to carry out the event(s) that led to their incarceration.

Rabasa et al. (2010) pointed out that researchers dealing with analyzing questions relating to terror agree that innovative thinking is required as well as searching for new tools to fight the war against terror over and above today's customary methods to frustrate terror acts. One operating method emerging as a relevant option is to create therapeutic programs that will lead to 'reducing risks', as claimed by Horgan and Braddock (2010). In other words, the idea is to change prisoners' behavior in the long term that will be expressed in their abstaining from integrating, on release, back into terror circles, but not necessarily retreating from their beliefs.

Barrett and Bokhari (2009) who conducted research regarding radical Islamists and their involvement in terror acts pointed to four key areas, which, in their opinion, can influence a reduction in recidivism and they are: (1) educational and rehabilitative activities including efforts to dissuade their ideological/religious beliefs. (2) Providing a foundation for a legitimate way of life through professional training and opportunities to acquire education. (3) Employing mercy and justice facilities as a framework to produce encounters between the desire of an offending prisoner to ask forgiveness and victims' desires. (4) Creating legitimate opportunities to deal with and unload the emotional burden accompanying an event, for example through a group discussion.

Educational Activity in Prison - a Tool to Change Views

Hasayasi et al. (2014) pointed out that in many prisons, with an emphasis on those found in Western countries various types of education and knowledge programs operate, which constitute an important and integral component of rehabilitation programs. The essence of these programs is to provide prisoners with education and knowledge, assuming that doing so alongside instilling normative values will help them abandon criminality and turn to legitimate social channels on their release from prison (Gordon & Weldon, 2003). A review of educational activities in Israeli prisons reveals that they are central to the organized prisoner rehabilitation program. A picture of educational programs conducted in Israeli prisons shows a wide range of programs - from basic education for those who do not know how to read and write whose purpose is to help them acquire language, through elementary, high school and academic education up to programs for professional training and teaching life skills (Cecil et al., 2000).

Education is a learning process in which people acquire knowledge, skills, values or attitudes (Ben-Dov, Shamir & Cana'an, 2004). Education is a tool through which it is possible to impart positive values, self-confidence and pro-social personality (Batiuk et al., 1997). Andrews and Bonta (2003) were of the opinion that education has the power to change prisoners' thought patterns and help them to plan their futures correctly. In their opinion, education constitutes an intellectual infrastructure for solving problems facing prisoners and as such helps them to mold more social personalities and bring about a profound improvement in their conduct.

Based on this insight, the assumption among education and therapy personnel in the Israeli Prison Service grew that prisoners' involvement in normative activities, such as participating in an education program, would positively influence their behaviour in prison and even contribute to their integration into society with their release from detention.

From data available in the Prison Service, in May 2017, there are 5,514 security prisoners, residents of the West Bank and Gaza in detention, of which: 5,271 are adults and another 243 minors who are not yet 18 years of age. Of these 2,220 are detained and 3,051 sentenced. Table 1 & Table 2 depict adult security prisoners according to number of years of study.

Table 1 -
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Table 2 -
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Tables 01 & 02 show that for most security prisoners imprisoned today it is their first time in prison, apparently, they have not yet adapted criminal characteristics and acquaintance with prison systems.

Proposed Intervention Model - Education for Security Prisoners

A breakdown of education data shows that a quarter of security prisoners have no education at all, 408 security prisoners have high school and academic education, the remainder only have elementary school education,

The socio-economic background of security prisoners demonstrates heterogeneity, there are those who come from middle and even higher status, possessing education and careers (Blackburn, 1993). On the other hand, from the education data, it can be seen that there is a mass of prisoners characterized by lower status - this is likely to provide a hint that the type of intervention will have to be completely different to apparently suit rehabilitative intervention recipes.

Congruent with Coylewright's (2004) statement arguing that the higher released prisoners' education level, the less likely they are to reoffend, rehabilitative attention should be turned to the formation of educational frameworks for the security prisoner population with the lowest level of education, expressed by the parameter of number of years of learning, that is to say for 957 prisoners with no education at all and for those who underwent organized learning for up to five years (135), that is a total of 1092 security prisoners.

Segmentation of Prisoners

To focus on action, firstly, the adult prisoner population should be segmented into two main populations:

  • "Hard core nucleus" - prison population that carried out offences with 'blood on their hands' who have hard line nationalist views, who sanctify violent acts and define their violent actions as legitimate ways of working, including those who continue to operate to carry out attacks from within prison. This group of prisoners possesses ideology and persuasion that will not deviate from the view that the violent route they chose is just as a solution to force governmental authorities to surrender. This group does not despise serious violence, including the murder of innocent civilians, so as to sow fear amongst the public.

  • Lighter offence prisoners - activists from the lower ranks who perpetrated offences, although security offences, but at a lower level of danger such as aid, support or offences at the lower level of law and punishment.

Rehabilitation programs will focus on light offence prisoners, because this population generally is not part of the inner circle - the hard core of security prisoners. Their ideological beliefs are not ingrained, which allows their ideological views to be changed and can be guided to a place where they do not abandon their world view, but will turn the ideological flame to a place where they employ non-violent means such as dialogue, political procedures and more.

Placement and Assignment

The key parameter for placing security prisoners relies on their actual definition as security prisoners - on this basis, security prisoners, in general, are separated from the criminal prisoner population whether in different prisons or special wings. All security prisoners are treated in the same way without any in-depth examination of their individual circumstances and how dangerous they are. Just being defined as security prisoners leads them to be placed in high security prisons together with other security prisoners, so that in practice, one sees prisoners who committed murderous acts alongside those who threw stones or helped in the execution of a crime.

Placing and assigning prisoners must be adjusted to type of population:

  • "Hard core nucleus" - these prisoners will be assigned, naturally, to maximum security prisons, where their movements are limited and their influence reduced.

  • Light offence prisoners - those who perpetrated relatively light offences, will be placed in medium security prisons allowing greater movement and integrating them in group and individual rehabilitation processes.

How prisoners are currently assigned to prisons of necessity leads to meetings between the ‘hard core nucleus’ including terrorists with 'blood on their hands' with lower ranked prisoners, which creates the potential for an unholy alliance between the two. Instead of reducing risks of terror, prison is likely to become a breeding ground for the spread of terrorist doctrine in light of the existing threat of combining the ideological flames of senior prisoners with junior prisoners from the second circle who will be exposed to the energy and skills of hostile terrorist activity.

Chances of Success

Attempts to trace quantitative data demonstrating the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for security prisoners did not yield unequivocal conclusions. Speckhard (2011) described research carried out in 2006 under the auspices of the American Defense Department among 20,000 security detainees in Iraq. The purpose of the program was to try and lead prisoners to undergo a profound change from violent conduct to adopting non-violent attitudes. The program also had an educational goal - improving literacy in the prisoners’ mother tongue – Arabic- among detainees and professional training. An analysis of the results in the context of being detained again after release showed that of 600 prisoners released, only 12 were imprisoned again.


Therapeutic and rehabilitation activities among criminal prisoners are generally accepted by the Israeli public with understanding as to the social benefits derived from them. In contrast, with reference to the rehabilitation of security prisoners, who are serving their punishment behind bars because of their involvement in terror attacks against Israelis, opposition is more intense. It is a political minefield, mostly because most security prisoners are residents of the Palestinian Authority, and although they are also under Israeli security control, there is an objective difficulty in following up and supervising released prisoners fulfilling the conditions of a rehabilitation program.

As a rule, those who perpetrated security/terrorist offences are found in prison, without distinction between countries in which they are imprisoned, opportunities exist to change their worldview regarding the ideology that was the basis for the offence for which they were convicted. The rationale for integrating security prisoners into rehabilitation programs relies on the assumption that if such programs are not operated in prisons, there is a danger that ideologies that motivate terror will spread. Since the opposite of extremism is rehabilitation, in order to prevent renewed radicalization and extremism in prison, it is essential to invest in building rehabilitative intervention programs as part of the struggle against terror.

Prison conditions are far from providing an ideal learning environment, prison education personnel deals with huge difficulties trying to 'normalize' prisoner pupils' learning experience. Prison is not a supportive or comfortable learning environment. For example, prisons house a wide range of prisoners who are very different from one another, both in their needs and learning levels and their motivation levels to participate in programs. Additionally, prisoner movement throughout jails operated with strict security means reduces the time prisoners have to learn in classrooms.

In light of the absence of educational programs for security prisoners, a vacuum is created and thirst for knowledge is exploited by prisoners, especially those from religious organizations such as: Hamas for religious instruction that strives to awaken in prisoners' spiritual enlightenment and change their behavioral direction to support policies of terror organizations and as such in fact, to expand the ideological opposition from to the state of Israel.

The foundation stone is that prison walls must not be a barrier to nor prevent people, whoever they are, including prisoners, from the right to learn and access information that will help their personal development and structure their ambitions for a better future. In this view, we need to match, as far as possible, the conditions of security prisoners in the context of learning frameworks to those of criminal prisoners. Especially as it is very hard to contain a security event that is likely to occur if they are taken to an educational facility, it is possible to create an intra-wing educational framework according to a structured program approved by all prison authorities.

It is a known fact that professionals in the Prison Service believe that rehabilitating prisoners who perpetrated offences against an ideological background are low risk. However, we do not have the privilege of neglecting any opportunity, even a theoretical one, that we will successfully change prisoners’ worldview and turn them into persons with a low chance of returning to prison.


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28 June 2018

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Cite this article as:

Ohayon, M. (2018). Penetrating The Armor - Rehabilitation Of Security Prisoners, Reality Or Dream?. In V. Chis, & I. Albulescu (Eds.), Education, Reflection, Development – ERD 2017, vol 41. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 788-796). Future Academy.