Staunton, June 12 – Earlier this year, Russia’s penal administration announced plans to ensure that its prisons and camps will have all conveniences including personal toilets and showers for pregnant women by 2030, and criminologist Iskander Yasaveyev says that despite these amenities, there is no prospect the system will be less repressive or closed than now.
The specialist on prisons, who works at the Higher School of Economist in St. Petersburg, says that the plans Moscow has announced may make the prisons look nicer, although even that is in doubt, but that they will do nothing to end the repression and other problems in the penal system (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/12/gulag-so-vsemi-udobstvami).
The authors of the plan start from the proposition that everything in the prison system is basically all right and that all that is needed is to “perfect” it. But in fact, Yasaveyev says, the system is fundamentally flawed, closed off from outside observers, and doing more harm than good to inmates and society.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the plan is its approval of closing the prisons and camps to outside observers and excluding all religious groups except the four “traditional” ones. As a result of the former, guards can act with impunity against prisoners because the authorities will always side with the prison employees.
And as a result of the latter, the system will continue its practice of excluding Protestant groups who are doing more than any other religious denomination to try to help prisoners reintegrate into society. If they are blocked from doing so, there will be more repeat criminals and society will suffer as a result.
The plan declares existing medical care sufficient, an indication that Moscow does not plan to improve conditions in that sphere despite the fact that the medical conditions of prisoners is increasingly dire. The powers cite the fact that the number of deaths is down, but it is down by the same percentage as the number of prisoners.
Not surprisingly, the plan discusses the use of prisoners as laborers; but it fails to address the problem that if prisoners are used in this way, they will typically be dispatched even further from their families, ties will be lost, and the possibilities for the reintegration of prisoners after their sentences are completed will be much reduced.
But the greatest failing of the plan, according to the criminologist, is its insistence that prisoners will become law-abiding citizens simply by being punished. Anyone who knows anything about prisons and prisoners knows that this is a self-deceiving “utopia.” Depriving people of their freedom works “only in exceptional and very rare situations.”
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