Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Moscow Responds to Rising Crime Not by Addressing Its Causes but by Lengthening Prison Sentences, Russian Criminologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 20 – Last year, violent crime increased in Russia with murders rising for the first time in 20 years. Some of this reflects the inclusion of the newly annexed regions of Ukraine, but most is the product of the flowing back of weapons from the war there into Russia where they are used for criminal purposes, Russian criminologists say.

            According to some commentators, such crimes and their likely increase in the future can only be reined in by ending the war in Ukraine, reducing access to alcohol, tightening gun control, and taking other measures that address the underlying causes of violence (tochno.st/materials/s-oktyabrya-prestupleniya-sovershennye-v-novykh-regionakh-stali-zapisyvat-na-moskvu-chislo-ubiystv-i-sluchaev-primeneniya-ognestrela-vyroslo-v-razy and idelreal.org/a/32272245.html).

            But instead of taking any of these steps, the Russian government has decided to increase the amount of time convicts have to spend behind bars something that looks pro-active but does little or nothing to cut the crime rate and may make prisons a breeding ground for more serious crimes, Moscow journalist Eva Merkacheva says (publizist.ru/blogs/114213/45159/-).

            “In Soviet times,” she writes, “the maximum term of imprisonment was only 15 years,” something propagandists celebrated as a major achievement and led them to denounce the much longer prison terms in other countries as “a survival of capitalism” that the USSR had successfully moved beyond.

            But now, Merkacheva argues, Russian courts have increased sentences for all crimes, including non-violent ones, to much more than 15 years, with 18 to 25 years now the norm. “Where is this leading?” she asks. “To overcrowded prisons and to the transformation of the correctional system into a place of punishment rather than change.”

            And this has happened, she points out, even though experts have repeatedly shown that increased incarceration doesn’t lead to a decline in crime but may have exactly the opposite effect.

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