Sunday, February 12, 2017

Forced Labor Adds to an Already Long List of Ways Moscow Can Punish Its Citizens

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – The introduction this year of forced labor in enterprises instead of penal incarceration as punishment, a move its advocates suggest represents a move toward the humanization of criminal law, brings to ten the number of such non-penal ways Russian courts can sentence those convicted of crimes.

            The other nine, the Sobkorr portal says, include: fines, service to the community, loss of the right to hold certain positions, loss of special military or honorary titles, obligatory work, limits on military service, restrictions on freedom, and arrest without dispatch to a prison or camp (

            Because the forced labor arrangements are so new and as yet so rare – there are only a few corrective labor centers open now, although officials plan to open seven more in the near future – there are many questions about how this system will work and whether employers or convicts will be able to exploit it in ways the law does not intend.

            According to the federal penal administration, this year there were more than 423,000 people convicted of crimes. Courts gave 261,000 suspended sentences and sent 24,300 to corrective labor centers and 39,344 to public service work. In addition, 96,930 were banned from one kind of work or another.

            There are such labor centers in Stavropol kray, Tyumen oblast, Tambovsk oblast, and Primorsky kray. And there are satellite branches of these now operating in portions of camps in Bashkortostan, Transbaikal kray, Samara oblast, Smolensk oblast, Arkhangelsk oblast, Novosibirsk and the Republic of Karelia.

            These centers operate on what officials describe as “a softer regime than the one in prison camps.” Although those sent to these facilities cannot leave the site except to go to work, they live in dormitories and after they have completed a third of their sentences, they can with permission make visits beyond the perimeter of the centers.

            Among those ineligible for such assignment are minor, invalids, pregnant women, women with children under three, women over 50, men over 69, and soldiers. Those who are assigned to these places can be sent there for periods ranging from two months to five years. Once they are assigned to a workplace, they can’t be fired but they can’t quit either.

            Those working for enterprises get to keep some of the pay they earn. However, if someone violates the rules of these facilities, then he can be sent to the camps or to prison.

            Obviously, the system is open to possible abuse both by those who hire such people, by jailors, and by those convicted and assigned there as well. Just how widespread any of these problems will be remains to be seen.

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