Juvenile detention to be reformed
Over the last three years the number of juveniles serving sentences in penal colonies has decreased from 11,400 to 4,000 according to Yury Krasnov, deputy head of the department of the federal penalty enforcement service covering social, psychological and educational work with convicts. Mr Krasnov was speaking at a seminar on the role of NGOs in helping teenagers who have been convicted. He ascribed the decline in numbers of prisoners to the fact that the administration of justice had become more humane (50% of those convicted received suspended sentences) and also to the enactment of amendments to the Penal Code of the Russian Federation Law, No 261, of 22 December 2008.
These amendments required revised approaches to the enforcement of penalties and also the reform of the colonies themselves, said the official. In this connection, the policy statement dealing with the development of the penal system up to 2020 adopted by the Russian government on 14 October proposes the creation of special educational centres based on the colonies. Mr Krasnov assured those present that the concept of educational centres will soon be included in the legislation,. The function of the centres will be to offer a humane approach to punishment, to deal with the social, psychological and educational problems of teenagers on an individual basis and to facilitate distance learning and the acquisition of professional qualifications. Juvenile offenders will live in rooms designed for four people (currently they are housed in barrack-like accommodation). Mr Krasnov said it is envisaged that young people sentenced for less serious offences will live outside the centres. The way they live will be as close as possible to that of life in the community. At the same time their movements will be restricted. Furthermore, the age to which young people may stay in a colony is to be extended from 19 to 21 or until they have served their complete sentence which will allow them to avoid contact with adult prisoners. The policy statement also proposes participation by NGOs in the work of preparing young offenders for normal life in the community and of preventing juvenile crime.
A leading fellow at the research institute at the department of the federal penalty enforcement service called the policy document ‘progressive’. However, he thought it insufficient merely to mention the possibility of NGO involvement. In his opinion, the way in which NGOs work with offenders and on crime prevention should be prescribed by order of the relevant government department. He added that students at teacher training establishments should be invited to work with juveniles as volunteers.