1988-1998 Chronicle of monitoring and struggle
The USSR (of which RF was a part) has made a certain progress in human rights
observance. The number of death penalty executions decreased by four times,
compared to 1985. Torture in the period of investigation decreased on a massive
scale. Detention conditions in penitentiary facilities (especially those in SIZOs)
significantly improved. Largely, the improvement of the conditions was related
to the reduction of the prison population. In 1986-88, the number of those
suspected and held in custody decreased by 2-2.5 times (compared to that in
1983-85) and the relative number of court sentences reduced by 12-15%. Total
prison population, after a number of amnesties, dropped by 30-40%. On 1.01.89,
the Russian SIZOs, for example, held 102,000
people and the number of those arrested by the procurators did not exceed
Certain types of disciplinary penalties for prisoners were abolished (in
particular, torture by hunger in disciplinary cells and blocs). Special
psychiatric hospitals were moved from the jurisdiction of the MVD to the
Ministry of Health.
The USSR signed the Vienna agreement stipulating, in particular, the
observance of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The
authorities began to make public information about the criminal justice system.
Prison facilities were slightly opened to the mass media, religious groups and
human rights organisations.
By assignment of Academician Sakharov, the MCPR
associates checked the reliability of information of the existence of a special
torture prison. The data obtained by the MCPR
made it possible to confirm that prisons of EPKT type and some closed type
prisons (for example, the prison in Eletsk, Lipetskaya oblast) are especially
designed for intimidation of the violators of prison regime transferred there
from ordinary penitentiary institutions, and for investigating of undetected
cases by illegal methods, forcible recruiting of agents among the leaders of the
The Internal Ministry of the USSR carried out an experiment to humanise
prison conditions in a number of female colonies and VTKs.
The MCPR received information from the
Primorski Krai about massive beatings of prisoners in one of the colonies. This
was carried out for “prophylactic purposes”, in order to intimidate
prisoners and prevent protest actions on their part against the outrageous
violations of legitimacy. These data were confirmed after the inspection made by
the Commission for Human Rights at the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR in
co-operation with the representatives of the GUIN
MVD RF and the MCPR. Criminal proceedings were
instituted against three associates of interior departments.
MCPR launched the campaign against torture in
the prison White Swan (Solikamsk).
The Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Soviet assigned the MCPR
to work out a draft law on changes and amendments to the Correctional Labour
In the next years, the problem of overcrowding of SIZOs
has increasingly worsened.
In autumn of 1991, Soviet prisons and camps found themselves at the mercy of
massive uprisings of prisoners.
Prisoners mass riots were reported in the autumn of 1991 the first time since
the prison uprisings in the early 1950s,. They were political in nature and
highlighted in the media. In a number of regions prisoners' demands were
supported even by penitentiary workers. At the height of the riots the Internal
Ministry, by agreement with the Procuracy Office, met prisoners' demands and
introduced significant changes in the internal prison regulations.
Soon after a nation-wide strike of prisoners held on November 13, 1991 at the
initiative of the Moscow Helsinki Group and MCPR,
the federal authorities were moved to satisfy the main demands of prisoners and
human rights activists. Thus, at the end of November the Russian President
issued a decree to abolish 50% deductions from prisoners' salaries previously
used “to maintain correctional labour institutions”. At the beginning of
December the Supreme Soviet put the issue of introducing alterations to
correctional labour legislation on the agenda.
In summer 1991 MCPR developed the draft law
about the changes and amendments to Correctional
Labour Code of the Russian Federation and submitted it to the Human Rights
Commission at the Supreme Soviet of the RF.
In June 1992 amendments were added to the correctional labour code: over 50
articles were changed, amended or introduced, making prison conditions much more
humane. In the field of legislation it was the first noticeable attempt to
change an inhuman correctional system for the better.
According to our estimates, as a result of prisoners' demands put forward
during the mass riots in autumn of 1991 about 20 new standards were later
introduced in the Correctional
The Law was adopted also due to the fight of Russian prisoners for their
rights and active support of human rights organisations for prisoners demands.
Mass beatings of prisoners by the detachments
of special purpose forces (spetsnaz) established at the regional services of
corrections in 1989-92, became widely used. The soldiers of spetsnaz, “act
only in masks that make it impossible to identify the fighter and strengthen his
confidence in impunity. Al of the criminal proceedings instituted based on
complaints about illegal use of physical strength and special means, were
canceled by procurators”. The Reports of the Presidential Commission described
the death of a prisoner V. N. Burlachenko, which resulted after he was beaten by
spetsnaz, and the attempt of a mass suicide taken up by about 100 prisoners, who
were reduced to despair by constant beatings carried out by spetsnaz. The MPCR
archives hold hundreds of such cases, including three fatal cases, where the
deaths of prisoners resulted from beatings.
MCPR and others human rights organizations
launched the campaign against inhumane detention conditions in SIZOs.
As a result of the campaign, started by MCPR in
1990 the scale of torture in the prison White Swan (Solikamsk) was reduced.
The MPCR began receiving testimonies that the spetsnaz soldiers would train
(i.e. teaching the tactics of suppressing disorder, special ways of attack,
kicks and so forth) on prisoners. Information about the planned training
sessions, consequently, was confirmed by human rights activists and by some
MCPR and SOPPU started the campaign against
the gross violations of human rights of prisoners regarded to the use of
The order N 13 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on January 15, 1993
reintroduced a punishment by hunger abolished in 1988 for prisoners serving
disciplinary punishments in various special detention and solitary confinement
cells. The RF Senior Deputy Procuracy General deemed this decree to be unlawful.
In further violation of the current legislation new departments to punish
prisoners “actively opposing prison administration” were established in
prison colonies: these were so called “local prophylactic zones” (LPU)
and “inter-regional common cell type premises” (EPKT).
Prisoners in LPUs (prophylacy centres for alcoholics) have committed no
disciplinary offence, but in the opinion of the administration “have a
negative attitude to the prison authority”. These illegal departments function
under internal rules of a given correctional institution, developed on the basis
of “General Provisions” approved by the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Since the end of 1993, the number of complaints to MCPR
and others human rights organisations from people subjected to torture and
beatings in militia departments and IVSs, has
sharply increased. To a great extent, an increased scale of torture was
connected to the campaign against crime which started in 1992.
Since 1993, a number of cases of extremely underweight prisoners have been
recorded in colonies.
MCPR sent the materials on torture and
inhuman conditions in SIZOs in Russia to the
structures of the UN and the Council of Europe.
137 of 177 pre-trial detention facilities and prisons appeared to be
overcrowded. The number of those held in cells, exceeded the sanitary norms by
3-4 times. By our estimates, the number of those who died in pre-trial detention
facilities only in 1994 exceeded 2000 people, about 80,000 of those under
investigation and under trial contracted severe diseases. Apart from the
torturous conditions, higher infection and mortality rates among SIZO
inmates is partly because the prisoners have not received proper medical
Director and experts of MCPR for the first
time decided to visit SIZOs (previously these
institutions had been closed for outside visitors). The visit resulted with the
report about inhuman detention conditions in SIZOs.
MCPR was involved in preparation of visit to
Russia of the UN and the Council of Europe experts. In July the UN Special
Rapporteur Nigel Rodley made a visit to Russia. At the press conference he
called the conditions in SIZOs torturous.
CE experts who visited Russian prisons were appalled to find great numbers of
people indicted for petty crimes in extremely overcrowded cells.
Reports on visits to pre-trial detention centres were prepared by the Council
of Europe (CE) experts and the Special
Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Committee.
By the assignment of the Presidential Human Rights Commission MCPR
prepared sections on torture and inhuman conditions for the Federal Human Rights
Program and the report of the Presidential Human Rights Commission about the
Observance of Human Rights in Russia.
MCPR in co-operation with other NGOs sent to
the President the concerns and recommendations in respect to Presidential Decree
N 1226 of June 14, 1994 “On Urgent Measures to Be Taken to Protect Russian
People from Banditry and Organised Crime”. As put in these documents, “the
decree includes provisions contradicting the RF Constitution, as well as gross
violations of the rights of detainees under the current RF Code of Criminal
MCPR prepared Independent Submission to the
UN Human Rights Committee as an alternative to the fourth periodic report of the
Russian Federation on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights. For the first time ever, Russian NGOs were able to
participate in the discussions concerning the official report. A number of NGOs,
and the MCPR in particular, were present at the
The Committee members often used information provided by Russian NGOs and
other independent sources. Reports by Committee members and the text of
Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties Under Article 40 of the
Covenant had many references to NGO information.
The MCPR experts were invited to take part in
the work group of experts drafting the recommendations in view of the future
admission of Russia to the Council of Europe.
Prison conditions in correctional institutions for people deprived of liberty
began to deteriorate. We can judge how inhumane conditions were for this
category of prisoners by the TB incidence and TB mortality rate in these
institutions. In 1992, there were 854 TB patients per 100,000 people; in 1994,
their number made up 1,611 per 100,000 and in 1995 — 2,481. TB incidence
among prisoners was 42 times higher compared to the general population and the
death rate from TB was 17 times higher.
estimates, the number of prisoners who suffer from various serious diseases
due to inhumane prison conditions exceeded 100,000 cases per year. Since 1995,
epidemics of tuberculosis have been accompanied by “epidemic” dystrophy.
There were numerous cases of death from “chronic emaciation”. This means
that for the first time since the Stalin era, hunger is widespread in Russian
In 1995, the first cases of dystrophy were recorded in juvenile colonies.
This relatively small group of prisoners (about 21,000 people) enjoyed better
prison conditions both under the communist regime and during the first years of
“democratic” power (as compared to the rest of the prison population).
MCPR prepared Independent Submission to the
UN Committee against Torture on the Periodic Report of the Russian Federation
for the second periodic report of the Russian Federation before the UN Human
Rights Committee. Russian NGOs were able to participate in the discussions
concerning the official report. MCPR experts were present at the session.
Recommendations of MCPR were used in Commentary
of the Committee against Torture.
Dystrophy has become common in juvenile institutions.
First time since 1989 the number of prisoners in SIZOs
reduced (by 14 thousands)
Amnesty International published report Torture in Russia: “This man-made
Hell”, MCPR and other Russian NGOs published
their reports on torture in Russia. Procuracy’s General Office prohibited the
use of spetsnaz in penitentiary institutions as prophylactics. The provisions of
Presidential Decree N 1226 of June 14, 1994, grossly violating the rights of
detainees were cancelled. NGOs started successfully the campaign against the
adoption of the draft Code of Criminal Procedure that according to independent
experts would increase the violations the constitutional rights of citizens.
MCPR initiated the campaign of Russian human
rights activists “Stop Torture”.
The Bill on Monitoring by NGOs of Penal Institutions.
It was drafted by MCPR in conjunction with
other non-governmental organizations and referred to the State Duma's Committee
for Public Associations and Religious Organizations in the autumn of last year.
A group of leading legal experts, members of the MCPR
and non-governmental organizations, has been formed to revise the document. It
is expected that the Duma will debate the bill in the spring or autumn of 1998.
If it is adopted, the bill could have a profound effect on the observance of
human rights in Russian penal institutions (prisons and camps).
The Bill on the Moratorium on the Death Penalty. MCPR
has been highly involved in the creation of this document and the campaign in
its support since 1996. The first draft was put before the Duma by Valery
Borshchev and Yuli Rybakov at the end of 1996. However, the parliament rejected
it at first reading. At the end of 1997, a group of experts, including Valery
Abramkin, director of MCPR, produced a
second version of the bill, which was referred to the Duma by a group of six
deputies. It is expected that the Duma will debate the bill during its spring
1998 session. The chances that it will be approved are not great, although there
is hope that more deputies will vote in favour this time.
As of December 1, 2001, there were approximately 56,000 women in Russian
jails and penal colonies, or roughly 5% of the Russian prison population of
about 1 million, and 50% of the female prison population in the countries
belonging to the Council of Europe. All in all there are 78.6 million women in
the Russian Federation (53.1 % of the population), which means that for every
hundred thousand women 80 are deprived of freedom.
The main problem for women in the Russian penitentiary system, it seems to
us, is that the conditions under which sentences are served, as established
during the Soviet period, do not allow for women’s special psychological and
physiological needs, i.e., women are confined exactly like men, or rather, like
some average human prototype without regard to sex, age and other individual
In Russia there are 35 correctional colonies for women, with a population of
about 40 thousand inmates. Ten of these institutions have accommodations for
children: those in Cheliabinsk, Kemerovo Region, Khabarovsk Area, Krasnodar
Area, Moscow Region, Nizhnii Novgorod, Samara, Sverdlovsk Region, Vladimir
Region and Mordovia. There are also two special regime camps for repeat
offenders, one of which, located in the city of Berezniaki in Perm Region, holds
about 400 women.
There are about 20 thousand women in segregative pretrial detention. We know
of two new exclusively female investigative detention facilities, in Moscow and
St. Petersburg. All the other holding facilities are coed, housing mainly men,
but containing cells for women as well.
In the provinces, investigative detention centers are filled to about 150%
capacity, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, to over 300% capacity; however, the
special facilities for women only are filled to approximately 150% capacity.
In 1998, as soon as the financial crisis began in Russia, we started to
get reports of famine in places of detention. We were especially astounded by
information received from the Mozhaisk women’s colony: we learned that as a
result of malnutrition the convicts’ small children living on the territory of
the camp had begun to lose their hair and go bald. To try to help them, we
announced, with the aid of Human Rights Watch representative Malcolm
Hocks, a collection of charitable donations among the foreign residents of
Moscow, and were thus able to buy the most basic essentials for the children:
vitamins, butter, baby food, medicine. This marked the beginning of our serious
work in women’s penal colonies, which continues to this day.
In 1999 with the financial support of Penal Reform International
we undertook the project “Women in Prison” (conceived and headed by Ludmila
Alpern, author of the subsequent report), within the framework of which we
monitored conditions in places of incarceration for women. We used a
questionnaire put out by International Prison Watch (Lyon, France), which
we translated into Russian. 320 female prisoners from six Russian facilities (3
preventive detention centers, 3 labor camps) responded to our survey. While
conducting the surveys and related activities, we provided psychological, legal,
and personal humanitarian aid. We turned for help to charitable organizations,
private contributors (we received strong support from the International
Women’s Club in particular) and commercial ventures. Over the course of
the project we paid a total of 11 visits to 7 women’s facilities, spending 24
days in places of confinement.
Our research brought to light the high degree of social and medical neglect
and lack of legal protection endured by women in prison. The main problem is
that women are treated like men or, rather, like some averaged person without
regard to sexual, age-related, or other individual particulars. Women held under
such conditions become habitual offenders. Even those who end up in prison as
fully mature women and were heretofore well adapted socially lose their social
ties and a normal social environment after three to four years in isolation (the
average sentence for women) and undergo extreme psychological deformation. Upon
release this prevents them from resuming their place in society and as a result
they again find themselves behind bars.
Women and adolescents are the most vulnerable portion of the Russian prison
population. They are severely traumatized as they pass through all the stages of
the criminal justice system: insults, beatings and even sexual assault during
the preliminary investigation, followed by a trial that can drag on for years
without concern either for the investigators’ means of obtaining evidence or
the conditions in preventive detention, which are more often than not unbearable
and might well be considered sufficient punishment for many of our criminals
(for it is no secret that over half of those serving sentences in Russia were
convicted of petty theft). Those who are pregnant when arrested and are lucky
enough to give birth in outside hospitals while still held under investigation
are escorted back to their cells two hours after delivery because the prison
administration cannot afford to keep guards in the maternity ward. The process
of transferring convicts from detention centers to correctional institutions can
last several months, after which they face the degrading life of a slave laborer
at their final destination, the penal colony. The following are only a few
examples: women do not receive sanitary supplies essential for feminine hygiene;
mothers who by law are permitted to care for their small children in
correctional institutions are separated from them at control points; female
convicts are forced to march in line and work ten to twelve hours a day. How can
a woman, who has lost all familial ties, housing, children, as well as the
ability to make independent decisions, return to normal life at the end of her
In 2000-2001 we undertook a project called “The rehabilitation of the
most vulnerable groups in the prison population” (conceived and headed by
Ludmila Alpern), which was a logical outgrowth of the previous one. Its focus
was women and minors in jail, and its goal was to determine mechanisms for
convicts’ social adaptation. This project was supported by the Soros
Foundation, the Swiss foundation “Liberty Road,” and small
grant programs from Penal Reform International, Le Secours Catholique and “Acer-Russie”
In the course of the project we made a total of 46 visits to 22 institutions
for women and juveniles, amounting to 56 days spent in prisons. We wanted to
pinpoint the most traumatic aspects and rules of prison life, both open and
hidden, so as to draw attention to them and urge the administration to keep an
eye on them and change them; and to find outside modes of influence making
prisoners less susceptible to psychical deformation in jail, especially in the
case of children and women, those for whom incarceration is particularly
detrimental. Our main focus was those women and adolescents whose future is even
more problematic than the rest’s: ones held in disciplinary isolation and
under strict regimes; HIV-positive prisoners; orphans; mothers with small
children. We were able to achieve real results in certain institutions, which we
termed baseline establishments, where we worked well with the administration,
and we realized that the staff is an important prerequisite for more humane
Consequently toward the end of 2001 we began work on the next logical link in
our series of projects, “Correctional Services personnel: an important factor
in the humanization of penitentiary institutions,” the main thrust of which
will be an alternative instructional seminar for staff of female penal colonies.
The project is supported by the Soros Foundation in partnership with Penal
Moreover, in 2001 one of the Center’s members, Ludmila Alpern, received two
individual grants: one from the MacArthur Foundation to conduct personal
research on “Women in prison: retrospect and prospects,” studying available
sources for information on prison conditions for women from the beginning of the
nineteenth century to the present day, so as to trace prevailing tendencies
through changing times and political systems and to outline desirable courses of
development; and an IREX grant through the program “Pressing contemporary
issues” to conduct personal research on “Prison monitoring and social
rehabilitation of vulnerable groups of prisoners” in the United States
(February 21-June 21, 2002).
Two booklets were published based upon the findings of the survey and
monitoring, “Women in Russian prisons” and “Prison is not a woman’s
business,” the latter also in English. They were approved by top officials of
the and with their help and support distributed to all women’s correctional
institutions, of which there are currently 38.
The following publications grew out of the project: “Children in prison” and
“Children tell about prison,” compilations of submissions to a writing
contest for juveniles in prison; “Life after prison” and “How to write a
complaint,” sets of instructions for juvenile detainees; “A legal
encyclopedia, or nearly everything a woman in jail should know,” a handbook
for female prisoners; “Concerning the social rehabilitation of vulnerable
groups of the prison population,” a collection of articles, visitors’
reports, personal documents, and other materials; “Only the tenth part,”
accounts by prison visitors and essays by Ludmila Alpern.