Reform of the Russian prison system needed
Human rights activists support the development of a model of prison centres
The Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights has convened a special meeting on “ways of supervising prisoners while, at the same time, protecting their human rights”. At this session, proposals were put forward by the Russian Federal Prison Service (RFPS) on modernising the prisoners’ educational system, together with a new model for detention centres – in effect, an alternative to the present system, which has been in place for over 50 years.
Gennady Kornienko, Director of RFPS, emphasised the urgent need to strengthen psychological and educational efforts to help prepare prisoners for their re-entry into society. “Experience has shown that implementation of psychological and social programmes in prisons improves the effectiveness of the educational process, promotes better morale among prisoners and helps in their successful integration back into normal life.” Kornienko also stressed the importance of legislation in strengthening these elements within the prison management system.
Commenting on RFPS’s new experimental model, Anatoly Rudy, Deputy Director of Russia’s Prison Service, stated that, in his view, a regimented system was morally obsolete and ineffective. “We strongly believe in the need to work with prisoners on a one-to-one level as this is the best way of addressing issues associated with their criminal tendencies and psychological make-up.”
Rudy went on to say that there could be no talk of introducing an individual approach to prisoners’ welfare where there’s only one person in charge of a block of 100-150 people. Under the new model, there would be 5 prison staff responsible for 200 inmates within the detention centre. Implementing the new system will mean that prisoners are not left on their own and under constant staff supervision. According to Rudy, the experimental model is already being run in five prisons and has been subject to continual monitoring. The psychological climate around prisoners is changing for the better, adding that “long-term inmates” believe that the results of this new model in women’s and men’s prisons will become evident within six months and around one year respectively. “We all know this will be no easy task. Nevertheless, implementation of this new detention centre structure will, if successful, lead to revolutionary changes to the law.” Rudy has already invited members of a Presidential Council’s specialists’ working group to make their own assessment of the experiment’s progress and to offer suggestions for ways in which it can be improved.
Commenting on RFPS’s proposals, Andrey Babushkin, Chairman of the Presidential Council’s Standing Commission for Cooperation with NGOs and Reform of the Penal System, said: “I don’t mind saying that the human rights’ community has been waiting for such an initiative for the past 20 years. This is a big step in the right direction which means that people working in the penal system will not be responsible for their own workplace, or for numbers written down on a sheet of paper, but for achieving the aims of criminal punishment.
Babushkin added that the Presidential Council needs to lend its full support to both proposals from the Department, i.e. legislative underpinning of prisoners’ psychological and social rehabilitation, together with the experimental model for prison reform centres. He also emphasised his support for the idea that any number of RFPS staff can decide on the main ways of carrying out punishment. But, how the model eventually looks in reality will only become clear once human rights activists have had an opportunity of studying the model personally.
Babushkin has offered to introduce accreditation for non-profit associations and organisations engaged in social work with prisoners as a way of creating the necessary conditions for their work in reform institutions. This is, in his view, an important aspect of NGO work, namely participating in helping inmates and institutions. Babushkin has suggested introducing mandatory computer literacy training for prisoners, maintaining a 40-hour prison working week, and that inmates serve their sentence as close as possible to where they live.
The output from this special meeting will be in the form of a set of recommendations to be submitted to the Russian President.
Author: Georgy Ivanushkin