Israel’s Justice Ministry has finished drafting a bill that would allow children under 14 to be sentenced to jail, Israeli sources reported.Under the bill, which was drawn up by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, jail sentences could be handed down to children as young as 12, though the offender would start serving the sentence only when he turned 14.
Prison sentences could be imposed on children younger than 14 only if they are convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, the draft bill states, according to Al Ray.
Israeli sources reported that, if the bill is passed into law, Israel would become one of only a few Western countries which allow prison sentences for children under 14.
The Justice Ministry started drafting the bill after the arrest of 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra, who was convicted of an alleged stabbing attempt, last month.
Under Israeli law, Manasra could not be sentenced to jail, but it allows his detention, interrogation and, then, a stint in a closed treatment facility until the age of 14.
Under currentl Israeli law, children below age 12 are considered below the age of criminal responsibility and cannot be subjected to criminal proceedings at all. Children aged 12 or 13 can be arrested and tried, but they can’t be sentenced to jail unless they have turned 14 by the time the sentence is handed down. Instead, they can be sent to closed treatment facilities and kept there until age 20.
Under the bill now being drafted, a judge could instead sentence the child to jail, though he or she would be kept in a closed treatment facility until the age of 14. At that point, he would be sent to prison to serve out his sentence, but only after a hearing at which the judge would have to confirm the decision to transfer him to jail.
The bill makes no distinction between juveniles convicted of a terror-motivated crime and those convicted of other crimes.
Israeli MK Anat Berko submitted a bill of her own on the issue. Her bill, too, provides for the incarceration of 12 and 13-year-old offenders in a closed treatment facility until the age of 14. However, it differs from the government bill in that it allows children under 14 to be given prison sentences only if convicted of terrorist crimes.
Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the Israel National Council for the Child, said he opposes both bills.
“Hard cases don’t make good law,” he said. “As a result of the situation and the terrible incidents that have occurred, there’s pressure to find quick solutions. But restraint in legislation is strength, not weakness. We need to consider the ultimate ramifications of this.”