Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!

× Learn more
No, thanks Photo: Abbas Atilay
back  |  printBookmark and Share

Official Paints Dire Picture of Russian Prison Life

Overstressed guards, constant threat of violence the rule, despite falling prison population, deputy prison service chief says.

8 January 2019

Russian prison guards are suffering from “moral fatigue,” and more prisons are needed to cope with rising crime by law enforcement officers, a high Russian prison official has said in separate remarks.


Low wages and the stress of dealing with violent inmates is behind the “moral fatigue” afflicting prison staff, Federal Penitentiary Service deputy director Valery Maksimenko said yesterday, RFE/RL reports.


The problem of abuse in Russian prisons became national news last July after a video appeared showing an inmate being beaten by guards.


Maksimenko told Interfax guards shy away from using force against inmates because of the resulting paperwork and questioning, and the risk of being charged with a crime.


Some two dozen prison staff were investigated or punished over the video of the beating in a Yaroslavl prison in 2017.


A human rights group made fresh allegations about abuse at a second prison in the region last month.


Also, a corrections officer suspected of causing an inmate’s death by suffocation was sacked in July from a penal colony in the Bryansk region.


In November, Maksimenko alluded to the scale of lawlessness among police and prison staff, saying two new prisons for law enforcement officers were already full and more were needed, RFE/RL wrote.


The Butyrka prison in Moscow. Image via Wikimedia Commons/Stanislav Kozlovskiy.


In December, a chief warden in Siberia lost his job over allegations – first made by jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in 2013 – that he treated inmates as his personal slaves, The Moscow Times reported.


Although the prison system has many problems, it has moved on from the days of the Soviet gulag, RFE quotes Maksimenko as saying.


“If some prison guards beat inmates, that doesn't mean it is the legacy of the gulag. It means that such guards have no brains … no desire to work, no patience."



  • Maksimenko said the number of prisoners in Russia has fallen from 1 million in 2012 to 571,000 now.


  • World Prison Brief data indicate that the prison population fell from just over 1 million in 2000 to 646,000 in 2016. Despite the falling numbers, Russia still has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.


  • Moscow’s antiquated 200-year-old Butyrka prison will be closed and the inmates transferred to a new pretrial detention center the city has agreed to fund, RT reports, saying a second detention jail in the city may also be slated for closure.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

back  |  printBookmark and Share


Transitions magazine = Your one-stop source for news, research and analysis on the post-communist region.


Sign up for the free TOL newsletter!


Moldovan diaries

The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes. 

It is a unique and intimate map of the nation.


© Transitions Online 2019. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
Published by Transitions o.s., Baranova 33, 130 00 Prague 3, Czech Republic.