Staunton, September 2 – Women, who from 20 percent of the Russian population behind bars, are treated far worse than men because the camp authorities can make more money off of their work, according to Meduza journalist Pavel Merzlikin. And in at least one place, a former inmate says, they are held in conditions “very like a concentration camp” from Stalin’s times.
Because there are fewer women in the camps and because the authorities use such draconian measures against them, the situation female prisoners face has seldom received the attention given to men. But that began to change in 2013 when Pussy Riot leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was confined in Mordvinian Camp No. 14.
She said the prison managers kept the women under conditions of “slave labor,” forcing them to work 16 or more hours a day so that the bosses could meet planned output levels and then sell the additional product and put the money from that into their own pocket, a situatin that inmates say remained unchanged until the end of last year.
In addition to excessive work, the women were denied medical attention, divided up between trustees of the administration and all others who could be beaten or otherwise oppressed at will, and charged excessive prices for personal needs, with the money again adding to the income of the guards and prison leaders, a former inmate says.
Because Tolokonnikova spoke out, ever more women prisoners have begun to do so as well, Merzlikin says; and as a result, last December, the head of camp number 14 was charged with exceeding his authority. There were too many reports for the authorities to ignore (meduza.io/feature/2019/09/02/eto-bylo-ochen-pohozhe-na-kontslager).
As a result, conditions in the camp have improved, the former inmate says; but she doesn’t know for how long and isn’t certain that the former director will in fact be convicted. Instead, he may simply be transferred to another camp and conditions at the one she was in will more or less quickly return to what they were before.
Only if outsiders continue to focus attention on these problems is there any chance that things will improve, and in the last few years, the Russian prison system has done everything it can to exclude such monitoring and reporting. Indeed, it seems that only if someone prominent is incarcerated is there a chance anything will get better.