The Hebrew word "nir" means "plowed field" or "cultivated field." The Nir School, the Israel Prison Service's (IPS) only school and training base, was founded more than 30 years ago. In the late 1990s, the school was transferred to Ramla, a city in central Israel with a population of about 65.000 and the home of five of Israel's correctional facilities. Israel houses 25,000 inmates in 32 facilities and has a staff of 8,000.
Col. Debby Sagi, at 51 and in her 23rd year with IPS, is the school's director and visionary. She describes the school as both a "preserver of knowledge" and a place that "creates knowledge." Not only does she see the school as a place for training new correctional officers on the practical aspects of their jobs, but she also sees it as a place where trainers can influence systemic procedures. "We must be those who express our opinions on various topics in the organization; we must serve as the organization's electronic sensors." she said. "At Nir, we are concerned with the IPS of the future, not the antiquated IPS."
Maj. Alona Zarjavsky, commander of the prison guards program, explained that Israel recently added inductees to the prison staff who are doing their compulsory military service at IPS. The inductees make up one-third of the trainees in the eight-week basic guard course. Zarjavsky said that during the course, which is made up of both theoretical and practical aspects, a suitability committee determines whether the trainees are suited to serve as correctional officers. "The school places particular emphasis on moral and ethical questions when trainees are being addressed on their suitability as prison guards," Zarjavsky said, "because these are the most important and significant issues."
Capt. Suzie Saadon, commander of the prison guards course, said that "Some prison guards have learned in the field, from experienced guards, certain behavior modes that should have vanished long ago." She and Sagi said that the screening process and the higher minimum standards that the IPS demands from new recruits bring in people who are of a higher caliber than in the past. The school trains young officers in the hopes that they will influence the veteran officers, as opposed to the other way around.
A Diversified Curriculum
In addition to training new correctional officers, Nir provides training for noncommissioned and commissioned officers and commanders at various levels of command. About one-sixth of IPS personnel spend...