Staunton, April 18 – In Stalin’s time, people spoke of the existence of two “zones” as far as prisons were concerned, the small “zone” of actual prisons and prison camps and the “large” one which included the entire rest of the country. That terminology may make a comeback if a justice ministry plan is realized.
Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko wants to create what he calls “new prison complexes (cities),” that will include all in one place prisons, prison camps, and detention centers where people whose activities are being investigated or who are being held for trial are kept (mk.ru/social/2021/04/18/ideya-sozdaniya-v-rossii-tyuremnykh-siti-vyzvala-voprosy.html).
Two aspects of this plan, Moskovsky komsomolets commentator Eva Merkachyova says, have attracted notice and criticism. On the one hand, because it calls for the creation of such “prison cities” whose inmates would come from numerous regions, it would undercut new laws giving prisoners the right to ask to serve their sentences in their home areas.
And on the other, Chuychenko’s plan would create serious problems of administration. As always, the larger the number of people involved, the more difficult control becomes; and because these places would be distant from where crimes were committed, the length of time needed to handle cases may soon extend from months to years or even decades.
Those problems might be overcome if alongside or in these “prison cities” were built hotels for lawyers and family members and courtrooms where trials could be held. But that seems unlikely, and so shuttling people back and forth will become even more difficult if the minister’s plans are realized.
But there is an even more fundamental problem: such arrangements would effectively lump together both those who have been convicted of crimes and those who have only been accused of them and are either being tried or face trial, thus further undermining any presumption of innocence.
Merkachyova says “prison cities” are the kind of thing that only officials who have never actually visited the institutions they are supposed to be in charge of. If Chuychenko were to come to prisons, prison camps, and preliminary detention centers and see how these are related to the population and the judicial system, he would never have come up with this absurdity.
And she points out that he now has a perfect opportunity to make such visits. Two days ago, the Duma passed a law permitting him to enter these institutions without preliminary approval of the jailors, a law that by its very appearance highlights the gap between rulers and ruled and the way the jailors have been able to hide what they actually do from both.