Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Can Aleh get its prisoners story straight?

The caption on the original reads: "The prisoners shed their uniforms
before arriving at ALEH to volunteer." [Image Source]
Aleh Negev's so-called Prisoner Rehabilitation Program really should be dismantled. Yesterday. It is just one of several problematic activities at Aleh that our government is generously subsidizing i.e. with your taxes and mine.

For instance, Aleh's PR professionals circulated two conflicting descriptions of the prisoners' recognizability on the grounds of Aleh Negev. 26 of them are released there three times a week in civilian clothes in order to mingle with the most vulnerable of all Israelis.

How does that pan out? It depends on which Aleh PR release you choose to believe. For instance, one piece claims those prisoners merge seamlessly with everyone else there:
"Dressed in regular clothing, the inmates look like the village rehabilitation workers or regular volunteers at the village and the residents cannot differentiate." [Source: Huffington Post]
Needlessly to say, this is a dangerous situation. Prison garb is designed to protect the public by rendering prisoners easily detectable. Here is Wikipedia on the topic:
"A prison uniform serves the purpose to make prisoners instantly identifiable, to limit risks through concealed objects and to prevent injuries through undesignated clothing objects. It can also spoil attempts of escape as prison uniforms typically use a design and color scheme that is easily noticed and identified even at a greater distance." 
But then there is another Aleh PR release that asserts the precise opposite:
"Though the inmates don’t stick out for their attire, they are distinctive among most of ALEH-Negev’s other 180 volunteers because they are male. “Most of our volunteers are female, as is our staff,” says Sekely. This is a wonderful way to rehabilitate prisoners,” says ALEH-Negev CEO Masada Sekely." [Israel 21C]
But before you buy that line, factor in the following, again, disseminated by Aleh's PR team:
Simon Weststeijn is the first member of ALEH’s administrative staff to arrive every morning and one of the last to leave every evening.  As the point person for all international volunteers for ALEH, Israel’s foremost network of state-of-the-art [etc] ...The most remarkable thing about this savvy and passionate volunteer coordinator is that he, too, is a volunteer... [Source]
There is a photograph on the Aleh website [see it here] showing a group of "special and dedicated volunteers" who pose with Simon. I'm no mathematician but I count five out of twelve male volunteers here.

I have a hunch that somebody at Aleh is reading my blog because in January 2016 - after I had blogged about its risks - the prisoner program was re-dubbed the White Collar Criminal Rehabilitation Program.

I suppose the concept of inviting prisoners, some serving long sentences, in order to develop close, long term relationships with our most helpless citizens, didn't sit well with a few donors..

That's not to say that the Aleh PR machine doesn't make a valiant effort to present these prisoners as exemplary citizens. Here is one description they disseminate, quoting Orna Ben-Tal "who helps direct the program in the South":
“It is clear that we can’t just accept anyone to this volunteer program, particularly because we are dealing with a population that is vulnerable and weak. There are no violent offenders for example, nor murders, pedophiles or rapists, and those who are drug and alcohol addicts are not accepted into the program.” [Huffington Post]
I suppose those prisoners at Aleh who have been incarcerated for eight years snatched a neighbor's apple pie from her window sill. I mean which other crimes are left?

If you have been wondering what the point of all this is for the residents of this institution, well, Aleh sheds light on that - and inadvertently shoots itself in the foot in the process.
“We don’t want our disabled residents to be in their rooms all day, staring up at the ceiling. We want them outside, breathing the fresh air around the beautiful flowers here, interacting with people.” [Stav Herling-Gosher, quoted here. She "runs the public and international relations for Aleh Negev".] 
Whoa! Can you repeat that, please, Stav?  If it weren't for these bussed-in prisoners, Aleh residents would be sitting around all day "staring up at the ceiling"?

And that's with an annual gift of $24 million of government funds and millions more in donations to the Aleh chain!? That's with an expenditure, according to Aleh promotions, of $4,300 per month per child!

Pray tell, where is all that cash going?

As a first step toward de-insitutionalization in Israel, this program must become history. Remember, by the admission of the Israel Prison Service [here] no other country in the world has chosen to imitate it in the five years since it won an award.

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