Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 168

The Russian Duma will debate two different amnesties in coming weeks: one for sick and elderly prisoners, and the other to try to attract back to Russia some of the estimated $60 billion smuggled out of the country and invested abroad.

President Yeltsin has sent the Duma a bill that would amnesty some 40,000 of the 724,000 convicts currently doing time in Russian prisons. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev told a press conference earlier this week that the Duma will debate the proposal soon. (Russian agencies, September 9) The aim is to reduce severe overcrowding in Russia’s jails.

Russia has promised the Council of Europe that it will transfer the management of its prisons and labor camps from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. A decree to this effect has reportedly been awaiting signature on Yeltsin’s desk for well over a month but is being held up by interagency turf-battles. The Justice Ministry wants the change of command to take immediate effect, but the Interior Ministry is lobbying to be allowed to relinquish control in stages. (Izvestia, August 16)

On September 9, Izvestia published an open letter in which prominent Russian writers described the shocking state of the country’s prisons and appealed to Yeltsin to expedite the transfer. Even when that happens, of course, improvements will not come about overnight. One of the main problems is the large number of people held under pre-trial detention — a period of incarceration averaging some ten months before sentencing.

Izvestia has identified inflation as a key culprit in this development. People are detained if they are suspected of stealing anything worth more than 10,000 rubles. At one time, that was a lot of money; nowadays it buys three bananas or two jars of jam. Russia prides itself, Izvestia noted, on the fact that its rate of solving crimes is much higher than most other countries: 65 percent as compared with 22 percent in the U.S. and 32 percent in Britain. But, the paper alleged, this is because the police catch and imprison old ladies for stealing their neighbors’ empty bottles, whereas the police’s success rate in solving murders and other serious crimes is far lower. Izvestia said that the police, as in Soviet times, still have a "production quota" and must solve a set number of crimes. This has been countermanded by order of the interior minister but the practice continues because the police are afraid that otherwise their budget appropriation will be cut. (Izvestia, August 16)

…And for Capital Flight.