Staunton, May 7 – In an indication of Vladimir Putin’s priorities, Moscow plans to expand the Russian penal system under the guise of reforms. But in fact, rights groups say, the program will leave most of the existing problems in place and may not be large enough to reduce overcrowding given the influx of new prisoners.
The Russian government had planned to spend 96.5 billion rubles (1.6 billion US dollars) on this program but facing budgetary stringencies has but it back to 55 billion rubles (900 million US dollars) by reducing the amount allocated to feed prisoners and not reducing the number of prisoners per cell (polit.ru/article/2018/05/06/jails/ and kommersant.ru/doc/3604921).
The program anticipates the construction of 11 new holding facilities, including one in Moscow, 14 new prisons and the reconstruction of four more, and also the construction and reconstruction of 119 preliminary investigation isolators (publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201804130011?index=0&rangeSize=1
Asmik Novikova, the head of the Public Verdict research program, tells Polit.ru that the amount that the government is proposing to spend will not be sufficient to solve even the most immediate and serious problems of the Russian penal system. Moreover, the program will do little or nothing to reform the operations of that system.
As a result, she insists, “one must not call [this proposed government effort] a reform.” Worse, it will not even keep up with the regime’s own projections as to increases in the number of those passing through the criminal justice system or provide the kind of employment to them that might allow for rehabilitation.
Novikova says that despite all the hullaballoo about this project, it will not bring the Russian penal system into conformity with international standards as insisted upon by the European Human Rights Court. Consequently, there will be more tensions between Moscow and Strasbourg as more Russian cases go forward.
And the prisoners’ rights researcher says that the failure of the government to improve the penal system means that an increasing share of the increasing number of people who will pass through it are likely to be recidivists, thus creating even more problems for the Russian authorities and the Russian people.