Avraham Hoffman, Director-General,
Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority

The Establishment of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority (PRA)

The PRA was established in 1983 by special legislation and began operations in April 1984. some of its functions, as stated in the law, are:

* To establish policy for the rehabilitation of male and female inmates of all religious denominations;

* To prepare, in conjunction with the Prison Services, rehabilitation programs for inmates prior to their release and to ensure, in conjunction with the Adult Probation Services, that these programs are implemented;

* To work towards the absorption of former inmates into the community, with respect to employment, professional training, etc.

* To initiate special assistance for released inmates within the existing social services;

* To aid the families of inmates’ during the period of incarceration and afterwards, with the participation of the social service agencies of the local municipalities and other groups;

* To encourage individual and group volunteer activities, including recruiting, training and supervising volunteers;

* To work towards increasing public awareness about the problems involved in the rehabilitation of released inmates;

* To suggest relevant laws and to initiate research in this field.

Rehabilitation Activities

Target Population

According to the legislation, every male inmate serving a sentence of six months or more is eligible to participate in the PRA’s programs. If his sentence is less than six months, the PRA may help according to his needs. Female inmates are eligible regardless of the length of their term because of the unique problems of this population. Participation in PRA programs is voluntary and each participant signs a contract with the PRA in which the terms and conditions of the program are detailed.

In the first year of the PRA’s operations, 1984, 250 inmates were assisted. In 1993, 2,500 inmates sought the PRA’s help. Overall, from April 1984 through December 1994, approximately 17,000 released inmates received help from the PRA.

Rehabilitation Activities in Prison

PRA legislation states that the responsibility for rehabilitation lies with the prisoner, who turns to the PRA for help of his own volition. The inmate requests help from the PRA while he/she is still in prison. The PRA is involved in two major in-prison activities. Firstly, a rehabilitation plan with objectives specific to the prisoner is drawn up by the prisoner and a PRA in- prison advisor, with the help of a Prison Services social worker. At this point also, a match may be made between the prisoner and a volunteer who will help him on his/her release, if such a match is necessary.

Secondly, the PRA offers a Preparation for Release course in all prisons. The inmate begins the course approximately 90-180 days before release when his/her anxiety is increasing. The courses include seminars on how to find employment, vocational testing and training, housing issues, services offered by local agencies, etc.

One of the unique aspects of these courses is that even at this early stage, society at large, and not only social-care professionals, is made part of the rehabilitation process. Representatives from the National Insurance Institute, the Employment Services, the Ministry of Housing, etc. visit the prison and discuss their various services and opportunities with the inmates. Aside from the practical material which they present, there is another positive outcome to these visits they serve to dispel the mystery which surrounds the whole idea of prison and prisoners. Likewise, in the eyes of the prisoner the faceless, threatening establishment is demystified. This mutual demystification is an essential ingredient to the process of changing attitudes and relations between society and ex-prisoners.

Rehabilitation Activities Outside Prison

A) Community Cooperation

Local Non-Profit Organizations: These organizations are a coalition of local public officials (usually the Mayor or Deputy Mayor), professionals

(PRA advisor, National Insurance Institute, Employment Services, Police, Probation Services, Health Services, drug treatment organizations, etc.) businessmen (building contractors, industrialists, factory owners, etc.) and volunteers (clergy, lawyers, private citizens, women’s groups, volunteer organizations, etc.). They are the address to which the released inmate turns when he returns to his community. The goal is to create an independent organization which can raise its own funds from the public and ultimately be self-supporting, while maintaining professional ties with the PRA (at the beginning the PRA and the municipality provide most of the funding).

Volunteers: One of the most important factors in the rehabilitation of offenders is finding suitable volunteers individuals or adoptive families, depending on the type of rehabilitation program involved. Volunteers, usually students, pensioners, professionals on sabbatical and other lay people, provide practical, personal assistance and symbolize society’s desire to help. There are two types of volunteer activities the individual, one-to-one connection (the volunteer "adopts" a former prisoner and assists him/her in a variety of areas) and the one-off, specific item of help (e.g. the volunteer accompanies the ex-prisoner to the Ministry of Housing to assist in filling out forms). Volunteers not only provide invaluable practical assistance and support, they can also help in changing community attitudes by educating the general public through the example of their own willingness to accept the ex-prisoner.

Colleagues, Veterans and Recruits: Along with the above-mentioned volunteers, ‘graduates’ of PRA programs who have proven themselves drug-free, gainfully employed and living a ‘normative’ lifestyle act as ‘seasoned veterans’. After a course in which they learn to act as a role-model peer, they offer encouragement and advice to recently released prisoners, an interaction that reinforces their own rehabilitation. Unlike volunteers who have never led a criminal life, they can understand what the volunteer is going through. Most important, they are living examples that rehabilitation is possible.

B) Residential Programs

Kibbutzim, Moshavim (cooperative villages) and Yeshivot (religious study centers): These programs aim to remove the ex-prisoner from his/her former criminogenic environment and, for one or two years, to provide a structured way of life and gradual reintroduction to freedom on the ‘outside’. In these settings, the ex-prisoner accepts the duties and responsibilities of working, studying or vocational training as well as the responsibilities of daily life in a communal setting. As of December 1993, 116 former prisoners have been placed on kibbutzim, 48 on moshavim and some 270 in yeshivot.

‘Three in One Apartment’: In this program young, unmarried ex-prisoners are matched with two university students and all three share an apartment for one or two years. The apartments are located in upscale neighborhoods and all the tenants are responsible for the upkeep as well as all household chores. The ex-prisoner receives a university identification card so that he may participate in regular sports and entertainment activities at the university. Here also, the ex-prisoner is introduced to non-criminal surroundings, social activities and peers and is prepared for coping with full freedom. This program is currently running in 8 apartments and, since its inception in 1986, 53 ex-prisoners have passed through it.

Hostels (halfway houses): PRA hostels serve those ex-prisoners who have multiple problems and a history of drug addiction. They often have nowhere else to go and are not ready for life ‘on the outside’ or even for one of the residential programs. The hostels serve as an intermediate stage between the institutional, regimented life of prison and the relative freedom, and concomitant pressures, of the residential programs.

There are two different types of PRA hostel. The first, Sha’ar Hatikva

(Gateway to Hope) in Beer Sheva, with a capacity of eight residents, is one component in a unique, three-stage program modelled on Dr. Abraham Twerski’s Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Newly-released prisoners first undergo a one-month, impatient, detoxification program, run by the Ministry of Health. (This detoxification stage treats the physical symptoms of the addiction.) The second phase is a three-month preparation program during which the residents and staff of the Sha’ar Hatikva hostel work together to rebuild individual self-esteem and to furnish the emotional strength not to return to drugs. The third stage of the program is placement in one of the other PRA hostels or one of the residential programs.

The other PRA hostels, in the major cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva, take candidates either straight from prison or from one of the many drug rehabilitation programs or take successful ‘graduates’ of Sha’ar Hatikva. They, like the other PRA residential programs, are intended to ease the former inmate back into normal society, usually over a period of nine months to a year. All the hostels take no more than eight residents, on the conviction that a large hostel will once again give its residents the feeling that they are "just a number", as they felt they were in prison. The hostels try to generate a family-like atmosphere among the small number of residents, with everyone sharing the daily household chores.

The PRA also has a hostel for female ex-prisoners. It is similar to the men’s hostels but because of the unique problems of female offenders, eligibility requirements and duration of stay are more flexible.

In March 1995, the PRA will open a hostel for Arab ex-prisoners in an Arab village in the north of the country. Two more hostels, one for developmentally disabled ex-prisoners and one for married ex-prisoners are in planning. The hostel for married ex-prisoners will be a residential facility for the former inmates only but there will be more possibilities for family visits and a strong emphasis on family therapy. (More details on both these facilities will be available by mid-1995.)

C) Treatment of the Family

The Triangular Program: This program was established for the married inmate with children, since research shows that without involving the family of the inmate during his incarceration there is almost no chance of rehabilitating him after release. The inmate’s children, who are at high risk of becoming the next generation’s offenders, and the wife, who must cope with becoming a single parent, are thus treated while the father is still in prison. University students see the children twice a week, become a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ to them, help them build their self-esteem and accompany them on visits to their father once a month. The wife/mother takes part in a self-help/support group and the father/inmate in a seminar on parenting held in the prison. After his release treatment continues a further three months.

In the first year of this project, 1986-87, 33 prisoners’ children participated in the program: in 1993, 400.

D) Employment Project

One of the most difficult challenges facing prisoners upon their release is employment. They must overcome low self-confidence and fears of being stigmatized and try to find gainful employment despite, typically, a lack of education, skills and work experience. The PRA has recognized that, in addition, those who do succeed in finding a job very often have difficulty staying in it, because of lack of regular work habits, difficulty in accepting authority and taking responsibility, and personal problems.

The PRA Employment Project attempts to address these issues by trying to find employers who know that they will be hiring a former prisoner, so that the employer, the former prisoner and the PRA employment coordinator or volunteer can work together to face whatever problems arise and to ensure that the ex-prisoner remains employed. The employment coordinator is usually present at the initial job interview and is then in touch with the former prisoner approximately once a week for one to three months, according to need. He maintains regular contact with the employer to receive feedback on the employee’s progress and behavior and, after the initial adjustment period, continues to monitor the situation as necessary. The PRA has also set up a support group for employed ex-prisoners which meets once a week under the leadership of an industrial psychologist.

The Employment Project operates in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and has recently been expanded to include Haifa and Beer Sheva as well.

E) Other Services

General Support: Additional activities include helping the released prisoner complete his/her basic education or learn a trade; ensuring medical and dental treatment; aid in filling out forms and documents, which can often confuse and intimidate.

Housing: The PRA has an agreement with the Ministry of Housing by which temporary rental assistance is given to released prisoners who have no other housing option.

Army Service: Since it is preferable that the released inmate return to society as an ‘ex-soldier’ rather than as an ‘ex-convict’, the PRA has come to an agreement with the Israel Defence Forces that eligible persons can serve in the army after completion of their rehabilitation program.