Strategy Photos of Israel's only women's prison show the agonizing reality of life behind bars in a country where only 1% of inmates are female

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At Neve Tirza, the only women's prison in Israel, Jews, Muslims, and Christians languish in overcrowded cells and receive little care from guards.

Israel's only women's prison, Neve Tirza, has been described as isolating and claustrophobic. play

Israel's only women's prison, Neve Tirza, has been described as isolating and claustrophobic.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)
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  • There is only one women's prison in Israel — Neve Tirza.
  • Just over 200 inmates call the prison home, and many of them languish in overcrowded cells and receive little care from guards.
  • Jews, Muslims, and Christians share cells together, as do first-time offenders and veteran inmates.


There are more than 20,000 prisoners and detainees in Israel.

Just 1% of them are women, and they're all housed at a single prison — Neve Tirza.

Located in the central Israeli town of Ramla, about 15 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, Neve Tirza is home for just over 200 female inmates. Opened in 1968, Neve Tirza is the only women's prison in Israel, and Jews, Muslims, and Christians live alongside each other in its tight, overcrowded cells.

Israel photographer Tomer Ifrah made several visits to Neve Tirza in 2013 and documented the isolation and claustrophobia shared by many of the inmates there. His images put human faces on a facility that had previously been accused of inhumane treatment of its prisoners, including physical abuse and a lack of proper medical care.

He also discovered that female prisoners in Israel face a unique stigma when they try to re-enter society, leading many of them to wind up back in prison. You can check out more of Ifrah's work at his website and his Instagram account.

Keep reading to take a look inside Neve Tirza.

Neve Tirza is the only women's prison in Israel. It houses just over 200 of Israel's 20,000 prisoners.

Neve Tirza is the only women's prison in Israel. It houses just over 200 of Israel's 20,000 prisoners. play

Neve Tirza is the only women's prison in Israel. It houses just over 200 of Israel's 20,000 prisoners.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: The Jerusalem Post



Neve Tirza is dangerously overcrowded, with up to six inmates sharing each 140-square-foot cell.

Neve Tirza is dangerously overcrowded, with up to six inmates sharing each 140-square-foot cell. play

Neve Tirza is dangerously overcrowded, with up to six inmates sharing each 140-square-foot cell.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29



The majority of the inmates at Neve Tirza are mothers. Inmates have complained the prison doesn't give them adequate space to spend time with their children when they visit.

The majority of the inmates at Neve Tirza are mothers. Inmates have complained the prison doesn't give them adequate space to spend time with their children when they visit. play

The majority of the inmates at Neve Tirza are mothers. Inmates have complained the prison doesn't give them adequate space to spend time with their children when they visit.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29



Many of the inmates are victims of sex work and have a history of drug addiction and being sexually abused. Some of the inmates participate in trauma therapy groups.

Many of the inmates are victims of sex work and have a history of drug addiction and being sexually abused. Some of the inmates participate in trauma therapy groups. play

Many of the inmates are victims of sex work and have a history of drug addiction and being sexually abused. Some of the inmates participate in trauma therapy groups.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Haaretz



Some inmates have also reported physical abuse at the hands of prison guards.

Some inmates have also reported physical abuse at the hands of prison guards. play

Some inmates have also reported physical abuse at the hands of prison guards.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Haaretz



The prison's solitary confinement wing has cells so small that an average-sized person can't turn around in them. 'The wing is bug-infested and without air-conditioning or working fans,' Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

The prison's solitary confinement wing has cells so small that an average-sized person can't turn around in them. 'The wing is bug-infested and without air-conditioning or working fans,' Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. play

The prison's solitary confinement wing has cells so small that an average-sized person can't turn around in them. 'The wing is bug-infested and without air-conditioning or working fans,' Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Haaretz



In 2003, an anti-torture group complained that inmates were subjected to violence, improper medical care, unjustified isolation, and strip searches that violated their dignity, among other alleged offenses.

In 2003, an anti-torture group complained that inmates were subjected to violence, improper medical care, unjustified isolation, and strip searches that violated their dignity, among other alleged offenses. play

In 2003, an anti-torture group complained that inmates were subjected to violence, improper medical care, unjustified isolation, and strip searches that violated their dignity, among other alleged offenses.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: World Organisation Against Torture



Mental illness is a common problem among inmates, but the prison doesn't have the capacity to treat inmates. "If you put people who are unhealthy in their minds together it can be hell for them," Ifrah told Prison Photography.

Mental illness is a common problem among inmates, but the prison doesn't have the capacity to treat inmates. "If you put people who are unhealthy in their minds together it can be hell for them," Ifrah told Prison Photography. play

Mental illness is a common problem among inmates, but the prison doesn't have the capacity to treat inmates. "If you put people who are unhealthy in their minds together it can be hell for them," Ifrah told Prison Photography.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Prison Photography



And because it's the only women's prison in the country, that means teenagers and first-time offenders often share cells with hardened, veteran inmates.

And because it's the only women's prison in the country, that means teenagers and first-time offenders often share cells with hardened, veteran inmates. play

And because it's the only women's prison in the country, that means teenagers and first-time offenders often share cells with hardened, veteran inmates.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29



Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inmates coexist in the same cells, as do other ethnic minorities and immigrants. Their shared adversity helps them form close relationships, Ifrah said.

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inmates coexist in the same cells, as do other ethnic minorities and immigrants. Their shared adversity helps them form close relationships, Ifrah said. play

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inmates coexist in the same cells, as do other ethnic minorities and immigrants. Their shared adversity helps them form close relationships, Ifrah said.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29



Inmates at Neve Tirza are afforded small comforts, such as cigarettes, television, and their own clothing.

Inmates at Neve Tirza are afforded small comforts, such as cigarettes, television, and their own clothing. play

Inmates at Neve Tirza are afforded small comforts, such as cigarettes, television, and their own clothing.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)


But "there’s a weary sadness to many of Ifrah's portraits, a symbiosis between the women’s environment and the way they present themselves to the camera," as Refinery29 wrote.

But "there’s a weary sadness to many of Ifrah's portraits, a symbiosis between the women’s environment and the way they present themselves to the camera," as Refinery29 wrote. play

But "there’s a weary sadness to many of Ifrah's portraits, a symbiosis between the women’s environment and the way they present themselves to the camera," as Refinery29 wrote.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29



"Neve Tirza is a very difficult place to be," Ifrah told Prison Photography. 'It is a very intense place. The atmosphere is not easy. It’s so small."

"Neve Tirza is a very difficult place to be," Ifrah told Prison Photography. 'It is a very intense place. The atmosphere is not easy. It’s so small." play

"Neve Tirza is a very difficult place to be," Ifrah told Prison Photography. 'It is a very intense place. The atmosphere is not easy. It’s so small."

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Prison Photography



Most inmates have trouble finding work after they are released, and 70% of Neve Tirza inmates end up back in prison. The high recidivism rate is in part because female ex-convicts are treated more harshly than male ones, one former inmate said.

Most inmates have trouble finding work after they are released, and 70% of Neve Tirza inmates end up back in prison. The high recidivism rate is in part because female ex-convicts are treated more harshly than male ones, one former inmate said. play

Most inmates have trouble finding work after they are released, and 70% of Neve Tirza inmates end up back in prison. The high recidivism rate is in part because female ex-convicts are treated more harshly than male ones, one former inmate said.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: The Jerusalem Post



"The world doesn’t accept a female prisoner,' the former inmate told The Jerusalem Post. "They'll accept a man going to prison, that makes sense, there's an expectation. But a woman? What’s a woman doing in prison, they ask."

play

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: The Jerusalem Post



The inmates occasionally participate in theater projects that reflect on themes of motherhood and imprisonment. "A mother's emotion is universal, it's powerful," Keren Cohen-Israeli, the director of one of the plays, told Israeli media.

The inmates occasionally participate in theater projects that reflect on themes of motherhood and imprisonment. "A mother's emotion is universal, it's powerful," Keren Cohen-Israeli, the director of one of the plays, told Israeli media. play

The inmates occasionally participate in theater projects that reflect on themes of motherhood and imprisonment. "A mother's emotion is universal, it's powerful," Keren Cohen-Israeli, the director of one of the plays, told Israeli media.

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: i24 News



The harsh reality of Neve Tirza helps inmates become close. "There is lots of love among the prisoners," Ifrah told Refinery29. "They often care very deeply for each other. It feels like a very close family."

The harsh reality of Neve Tirza helps inmates become close. "There is lots of love among the prisoners," Ifrah told Refinery29. "They often care very deeply for each other. It feels like a very close family." play

The harsh reality of Neve Tirza helps inmates become close. "There is lots of love among the prisoners," Ifrah told Refinery29. "They often care very deeply for each other. It feels like a very close family."

(Courtesy Tomer Ifrah)

Source: Refinery29