chapter  15
23 Pages

The human right to dignity and commodification of prisoners: Considering worldwide challenges to prison privatization

WithWilliam Paul Simmons, Leonard Hammer

Making a rather ambitious, broad-form, decision, the Israeli Supreme Court in 2009 ( Academic Law College, Human Rights Division v The Minister of Finance: hereinafter, the ‘Prison Case ’) ruled that privatization of prisons is a per se violation of human rights; in particular the rights to liberty and dignity. The Court ruled that it was not the often deleterious consequences of privatization that violated the rights to liberty and dignity, but that privatization of prisons by itself was a violation of the Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity of 1992. 3 This decision has been subject to much negative commentary and criticism, with most analyzes focusing on the Court’s argument on the right to liberty. Scholars who have dismissed the opinion seemed to have misread it, often grounding their counter-arguments with faulty and wildly abstract premises that misrepresent the human rights issues at stake. This chapter focuses on the Court’s novel argument on the right to human dignity and especially how privatization of prisons turns inmates into commodities (cf. Catholic Bishops of the South, 2000; Robbins, 2006). While this argument may have been under-developed in the Court’s opinion, teasing out and expanding on the Court’s logic provides an important new avenue for litigating matters that pertain to the fundamental human right to dignity in other forums, both domestic and international.