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XXIII Seminar of Baltic Criminologists “Crime and Punishment in Baltic Region” (Vilnius, 2010). Yakov Gilinskiy Punishment in Contemporary Russia Any punishment is criminal. Lev Tolstoy. 1. Introduction

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xxiii seminar of baltic criminologists crime and punishment in baltic region vilnius 2010

XXIII Seminar of Baltic Criminologists “Crime and Punishment in Baltic Region” (Vilnius, 2010)


Punishment in Contemporary Russia

Any punishment is criminal.

Lev Tolstoy


1. Introduction

The social control over criminality is one of the most important problems in the modern world. Street crime, organized crime, violent crime, terrorism, and so on affect people and give rise to «moral panic», «fear to crime» (Cohen, 1973).


Legislators, politicians, police and criminal justice officials try, often habitually, repressive methods to gain control over criminality, drug abuse and drug traffic, prostitution, corruption, terrorism, etc. However, traditional measures have not obtained the desired results.


Social control is the mechanism of self-organizing and self-preservation of society by the establishment and maintenance of the normative order, by elimination, neutralization or minimization of deviant behavior including crimes.


The social control over criminality includes general methods of social control – punishment, and crime prevention.


There is the point of view that exist «crisis of punishment» (T. Mathiesen, 1974), crisis of the criminal justice, crisis of the criminal-law control over criminality, including the control of police (Christie, 1981; Davis and Anderson, 1983; Pepinski and Quinney, 1991; Sumner, 1994; Hendrics and Byer, 1996; Rotwax, 1996; Palermo, 1998; Christie, 2000, and others).


Really: punishment does not execute their own function of the reduction of the crimes.

The punishment does not solve the problems of the general prevention (criminality grows!).

Punishment does not execute problems of the special prevention: level of the relapse relatively constant (T. Mathiesen).


Movement of abolitionism develops towards cancellation not only of the death penalty, but also towards replacement of imprisonment by alternative measures of punishment, for transition from the retributivejustice to the restorative justice (Morris, 1989; Zehr, 1990; Consedine, 1995).


It is a necessary to add that while the «struggle» is conducted, mainly against «street crimes» (or, by the expression of A. Liazos: «nuts, sluts and perverts»), the huge layer of «respectable crime» still remains outside the «fields of fight». When it is dealt with by the police and condemned by the court it functions as a «scapegoat» to demonstrating successful «struggle against criminality». It is known as the problem of selection in the police and criminal justice.


The social and economic inequality is one of the biggest criminogenic factors.

Repressive social control is the best means of exclusion. Especially it is through the problem of selection in the police and criminal justice. There appears to be a circulus vitiosus (vicious circle). The repressive mode of social control enhances the amount of the excluded people. The more people are excluded the higher the deviance and crime rate seems to be. The higher the rate of deviance, the more repressive the social control is considered to be.


The basic tendencies of the theory (and in the practice of some countries) of the modern western policy of the social control over criminality are follows:

  • Recognition of irrationality, inefficiency of the reprisals («crisis of punishment»).
  • Change of the strategy of social control from «war» to «peace» and «peacemaking» (Pepinski & Quinney).
  • Search of alternative (non-repressive) measures of social reaction.
  • Priority of the crime prevention.

2. Russian Reality

The current punishment system in Russia stipulates the following types of criminal punishment: the death penalty (Art.59 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation); life imprisonment (Art.57); deprivation of freedom (Art.56 CC RF); limitation of freedom (up to 5 years, Art.53); arrest (up to 6 months, Art.54); corrective labor (up to 2 years, Art.50); compulsory labor (up to 240 hours, Art.49); fines (Art.46); deprivation of the right to hold a certain position or to conduct certain activities (up to 5 years, Art.47); deprivation of military or special titles (Art.48).


In addition, military personnel may be sentenced to serve in special disciplinary unit (up to 2 years, Art.55) and there are various compulsory measures of education and supervision for minors (14-17 years, Art.90).


The last Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (1996) contains very stern kinds of punishment: death penalty, life imprisonment, deprivation of freedom for 20 years, and by combined of crimes – up to 25 years, by combined of sentences – up to 30 years (Art.56). In any previous Criminal Codes of Russiathere were no sanctions like (life imprisonment, up to 30 years). Moreover, some kinds of probation and parole (deprivation of freedom with suspended of sentence) have been excluded from the new CC RF.


There is moratorium of the death penalty from 1997, but Russian parliament («Duma») did not ratify this.


There is tendency of cutting down the punishment without deprivation of freedom in the penal and sentencing practice: the quota of corrective labor without deprivation of freedom has decreased (from 26.4% in 1988 to 5.2% in 2009); the quota of fine has decreased (from 15.7% in 1986 to 6.5% in 2003 and 14.7% in 2009).


The imprisonment rate (per 100,000 population) in Russia is the one of greatest in the world (more than 720 - 740 in 1999 without institutions of military justice, more than 625 in 2007). One of four adult men in Russia is former prisoner. The overwhelming part of prisoners is not professional criminals, but people who found themselves in prison because of the misery, unemployment, homeless.


The conditions in penitentiary institutions are terrible. Extremely harsh regimes in institutions for the deprivation of freedom suffered by those awaiting trial or under conditional sentence, contravene human rights; overcrowding in the pre-trial detention centers those awaiting trial compels inmates to sleep in shifts; bad food; the spread of tuberculosis and HIV-infection.


The very many facts of conditions

in penitentiary institutions are torture.


There are tortures of those awaiting trial / under investigation in so-called «press cells»to procure confessions of guilt; mass beatings; etc. Life in institution for the deprivation of freedom (prisons and «correctional colony») is unbearable, the possibilities for «correction» are nil. It is quite the contrary.


Tortures in Russian police and prisons take place every day.

Many newspapers, journals, special books write about that

(the “News Newspaper”, former “Common Newspaper”, journals “Bondage”, “Index: Dossier on Censorship”, collected articles “Police Violence”, informational bulletin “To Right”, bulletins of “Amnesty International”, etc.)


There are different manifestations of police violence:

“simple” blow,

stab in the back (kidneys),

beating, etc.

There are special tortures:


“elephant calf”,



“extension”, and other.

There are description and illustrations of the different kind of tortures.


It is very important to know about the scale of this shameful occurrence.

Any Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences realizes one project with a goal to reveal this scale.

Initiator of project was “Committee against tortures” from Nizhni Novgorod with financial support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


3.4% of adult populations were victims

  • of police tortures in 2004 in St. Petersburg
  • and Nizhni Novgorod,
  • 4.3% in Pskov,
  • 2.8% in Komi Republic, and
  • 3.6% in Chita.
  • 5.9% of adult population was victims
  • of police torture in St. Petersburg in 2005 and
  • 21.3% on life time.
  • 40-60% of prisoners were victims
  • of police tortures before sentences
  • that are by investigation.
  • Of course, situation in Chechnya is much worse. But it is a special topic…

«Sociology of Violence.

Tyranny of Law Machinery»

(Nizhni Novgorod,2007)


Last time our situation is very slowly changed to better, step by step.

But I do not see the perspective to fundamental, radically change of the Russian situation to better.