The new Federal Penitentiary director Alexander Reimer has put his department’s cards on the table. His plans appeared to be mighty.
By his words, great changes are being prepared in penal institutuions. There will be no traditional colonies, the detainees will be divided into several “streams”. However, Reimer did not specify what these mysterious “streams” were. Incidental prisoners having “misstepped or simply committed a foolishness would go to penal institutions with relatively mild regime. But hardline criminals would go not to colonies but to prisons - in the proper sense of this word. They will have to serve their punishment in cells, like in many countries of the world” (“Rossiyskaya Gazeta” - Federal issue, No. 4987 (163), September, 2, 2009).
Let us see a little statistics. There were 272 million people in the USSR at its forefront (the middle 1980es). There were a little more than a million prisoners. Now there are 141 million of population in Russia. But there are almost a million prisoners. The “progress” is obvious: we have twice surpassed the “totalitarian Evil Empire” by amount of prisoners per capita. Nowadays there are 758 penal colonies in Russia. 737,000 people are confined there (by the end of the last year). There are only seven prisons. There are 222 detention centres and 164 lodgements used as detention centres. 145,000 persons are confined in them.
So, the main jail-keeper of the country wants to move Russian colonies’ population into prisons. “They will have to serve their punishment in cells, like in many countries of the world”.
Is it technologically possible? Essentially, if to put forth building industry, it is possible to construct 758 prisons instead of the same amount of colonies. But this matter would be really gold-value - of course, if prisons responding to European standards would be constructed. Such funds would hardly be afforded by the budget. Let us also take into account that at least half of the sum allocated would be stolen off.
Many colonies are already overcrowded. It is naïve to suppose that prisons would not be overcrowded. Upon that, it is easier to exist in an overcrowded colony than in an overcrowded cell: it is possible there to go outdoors, not to stay all day long with repugning people etc.
But it is not a secret that penitentiary system in our country is tailored not for correction and upbringing but for punishment and isolation. Evidently, there is an epoch of “cinching” now. Under prison conditions there are more possibilities to provide isolation, as well as punishment.
But what will it turn into for the society?
A prison means “roofed” in thieves’ talk. It is the “higher education” for any self-respecting thief, like a “university”. The more often and longer a thief had “studied” in this “university”, the higher his authority among detainees is. The “roofed” is an acknowledgement of his incorrigibility, his firmness in struggle against administration, his persistency and ability to organize resistance against authorities. It is not in vain that colonies’ administration dislikes “roofeders” so much and is so much afraid of them. It strives not to receive them from transportation, to farm them out, to lock them up.
Persons having twice or thrice undergone the “roofed” become automatically criminal authorities. Any administration has to take such people into account, it is more problematic to confront them. Why is it so? That’s because the prison is the last and the most severe tool of punishment.
It is “the most humane trial in the world” which decided who has “casually misstepped” and who has not. On your opinion, who serves their punishment at general and high security regimes now? Are they especially dangerous criminals drowned in murders and atrocities? Nothing of that kind, there are only a little more than 60% of such people (those having committed grave and extremely grave crimes). But the other inhabitants of nowadays colonies are small-scale thieves serving their punishment for having stolen a cell phone, for example. After the reform prisons would be filled with them.
The administration will never be able to kill in custody or to lock up for life all people having undergone the “roofed” and naturally hardened in heart, so, we’ll receive more cruel, more cynical and desperate criminals after having served their punishment.
Evidently, there is only one step from constructing prisons instead of colonies to constructing special prisons for political detainees in the epoch of “cinching”. So it is clear - we’ll come to nothing else but to new “Steimheims” with their “dead corridors”, single cells and sudden “mass suicides”.
Neither human rights activists nor free people think of consequences of such reform. For example, the Ombudsman of RF Vladimir Lukin says: “I support the penitentiary system reform. I like the reform concept in total, although constructive discussions are possible on several questions. The penitentiary system is to be re-build, and new approaches are to be introduced in it. Different kinds of prison regime mught be examined”.
Well, we have only to wish that “tighteners” and indifferent ones don’t overdraw…