Saturday, January 26, 2019

One in Seven Russians Involved with Country’s Prisons, ‘a State within a State’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – Twenty million Russians, roughly one in every seven, are involved with the country’s prisons either as inmates or as part of the criminal justice system writ large. Indeed, it is now such a large entity, a new study says, that like Stalin’s GULAG, it is becoming “a state within a state.”
            Two years ago, Olga and Vyacheslav Kiyutsin prepared a study on the prison system for St. Petersburg’s Institute for Problems of Contemporary Society in the hopes of sparking a public discussion of an institution this large; but, Viktor Bulavintsev says, the problem is so large and complicated that they failed in that regard (

            One way or another, the Kiyutsins say, the Russian penal system  extends beyond the Federal Penal Service to include various ministries and administrations in the government and “no fewer than 20 million people including those being arrested and those condemned, those freed conditionally … their relatives and friends,” and many others. 

            It is so diverse that it is almost impossible to manage, and the federal system doesn’t rehabilitate people as intended but breeds ever more criminals as people pass through it, the investigators continue. Its educational system is large but ineffective. The system is expensive but most of the money goes to prison staff of all kinds rather than to the benefit of prisoners.

            Mortality and morbidity among prisoners remain high, despite there being 29,000 doctors in the prison system, and these are below all-Russian figures only because the average age of inmates is lower than the average age of men in the population. And violence among inmates and between inmates and guards is increasing with each passing year.

            But the greatest indictment of the system is the increasing rates of recidivism.  Between 2005 and 2015, the share of Russians convicted after being released rose from 28 percent of all judgments to 45 percent. As a result, more than a quarter of all those behind bars are repeat offenders, and another 199,000 have more than two judgments against them. 

            The federal penal administration in recent years has equated effectiveness with autonomy; that is, it has sought “a dictatorship of administration” over all branches of the criminal process rather than showing improvements in any of the sectors.  It has achieved dictatorial powers, the researchers say; but it has not met its stated goals.

            According to the Kiyutsins, “the penal system of Rsusia needs to be radically reformed in the coming years. Above all,” they say, “by giving it a new conception, making the system not about punishment but about correction, and increasing the practice of punishments that do not require putting people behind bars.”

            To those ends, they continue, the various functions in the prison system need to be divided up among the relevant ministries rather than having everything concentrated in one agency. Unless that happens, inefficiencies and corruption will continue to flourish.  To start with, isolators in which those being investigated must become part of the interior ministry rather than the Federal Penitentiary Service.

            Otherwise, the researchers conclude, “the Federal Penitentiary Service will finally become ‘a state within a state,’ having its own powerful armed structure with its own fortress-like institutions throughout the country and with hundreds of thousands of condemned who are absolutely under its control.”

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