Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 190

Russian president Boris Yeltsin last week signed a decree transferring responsibility for the country’s prisons and pre-trial detention centers from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Justice. This brings Russia into line with its obligation as a member of the Council of Europe (see item below) by altering the current situation, in which a single agency — the Interior Ministry — has charge of criminal investigation, detention and punishment. The move had been expected for several months, but was delayed by strong opposition from the Interior Ministry. It returns Russia to the regime that prevailed before the Bolshevik Revolution: the Justice Ministry was responsible for Russia’s prisons from 1895 until 1922. (NTV, October 9; RTR, October 12)

Poor conditions in Russian prisons have been widely criticized by human rights watchdogs. Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin told Russian TV that he had recently been in the Netherlands where the state spends $300 a day per prisoner and where, for every 360 prisoners, there are 300 staff. Stepashin said Russia cannot afford to spend such sums on its prison population. This is partly because Russia’s ratio of 985 prisoners per 100,000 members of the population is far higher than the western European average of 60-80 per 100,000. In this respect, Stepashin said his ministry has advised President Yeltsin to go ahead with a proposed amnesty that could see nearly half a million elderly, sick, or minor offenders granted early release from prison. (RTR, October 12)

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