Staunton, June 4 – Putin’s authoritarian regime is sending ever more Russians to prison, something that has attracted a great deal of attention. But because few are kept for life, his government is also creating a growing class of former prisoners who face anything but an easy life after serving their sentences, the Meduza news agency says.
In a new article, the news agency says that the most important thing is that prisoners about to be released must be certain that they have all the necessary documents to function outside prison walls (meduza.io/feature/2022/06/04/mnogie-lyudi-v-rossii-popali-v-tyurmu-iz-za-repressiy-ili-po-drugim-prichinam-kak-zhit-posle-osvobozhdeniya).
Often, it continues, people are released without such documents even though the law requires that jailors provide these papers. But without such documentation, it is almost impossible for former prisoners to rent an apartment or find a job, forcing all too many of them back into a life of crime and back into prison.
At the time of their release, Meduza says, Russian law specifies that former prisoners are to be given 850 rubles (17 US dollars), a ticket to the place where they lived before imprisonment or money to pay for that, food or money for it, and clothes appropriate to the season if the former inmate lacks them. But again, these provisions aren’t always observed.
Prisoners don’t know their rights, and they don’t know how to get in contact with organizations that help such people to claim these rights. But the problems former prisoners face only begin even when their jailors do follow these provisions of the law. Many people don’t want to rent to them or to hire them because they are “criminals.”
Sometimes this is simple prejudice, but Russian law specifies a whole raft of kinds of employment that many former prisoners are not allowed to perform, including but not limited to any work with children, on airlines, as guard, in the FSB, as civil servants, judges, and members of most legislative bodies.
Former prisoners should not try to conceal their status, activists say, because employers can easily find out whether they were ever behind bars and for what. There are other restrictions as well: It is almost impossible for former prisoners to adopt a child or to travel abroad, although that is a matter of practice rather than law, Meduza says.
Another problem former prisoners face is getting medical care for diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS they may have contracted in jail or dealing with the PTSD they may feel because of conditions in prisons and camps. There are far too few places they can turn to help.
One measure of the tragedy of this growing subgroup of the Russian population is that many former prisoners turn to alcoholism or drug abuse, with the majority of deaths among this group in the months after their release being the result of overdoses. Some NGOs can help, but the dimenmsions of this problem are so large that it is beyond the current capacity.
When prisoners were released en masse after the death of Stalin, many faced difficulties in adjusting back to life in “the big zone.” But in most cases, people accepted what had happened to them as unjust and made allowances. It is far from clear whether newly released prisoners in Putin’s Russia will benefit from a similar attitude.