Grigory Pasko: The longer the chain, the more you want freedom*

tyrma-1.jpgI can not sit calmly and listen to the raptures of certain of my colleagues and even of certain human rights advocates on account of the declaration of the new director of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) of Russia [the current name of the agency responsible for running the country’s vast penal system, formerly known as GULag–Trans.] mister Reimer about improving the penitentiary system, Improvements, I will note, they promised in the distant – to the year 2020 – perspective , yet some are attempting to choke from rapture already today.

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A couple of days ago I read the draft of the new conception of reforming the criminal-execution [penal–Trans.] system of Russia. The first impression – a sense of déjà vu. I swear I’d already read this some time before, some 10-15 years ago. In various sources. And I didn’t like it then either. And now I don’t like it yet again. And the old arguments come floating back. The UIS – is truly an executional system. I would sharpen it: a dully executional one. It executes even those instructions that it is criminal to execute. For example, the instructions of investigators not to provide medical treatment to sick people in a SIZO [an investigative isolator, where suspects and accuseds are remanded from the moment of their arrest until sentencing–Trans.]; not to grant them visitations with kin, lawyers; not to dispatch their letters to instances…

We have way too many prisoners and way too old places of deprivation ofliberty for them. We can not remodel these old places: they’ve got tobe razed to the ground and build new ones.
The three main – and old – conclusions from the text of the newconception simply can’t be done; there’s no way: first – employees ofthe UIS must not be military in essence and in form; second – doctorspromptly must be taken out of subordination to the FSIN; third – theevery possibility of influencing the life of arrestees must be takenaway legislatively from investigators.

An enumeration of the numbers in the text of the conception impressesonly at first. Then you invariably start to ask yourself the question -why are it needed? After all, few people know what stands behind them?131 prison hospitals for the entire country – is this a lot or alittle? 59 medical prison establishments – is that a lot or a little?For 900 thousand prisoners 300 thousand uinovites – is that a lot or alittle? Not having grasped these numbers, nobody will be able tointelligibly say whether the conception itself is any good.

Lots of general phrases. «The norms are raised, legislation is beingperfected…» One would like to know how all this is being executed? Andis it? The fact is that the oversight body for the UIS – the procuracy- has completely discredited itself. Instead of four separatestructures – the FSIN, the procuracy, investigation and the courts – wehave a single repressive organ.

There are some truly frightening phrases in the conception. Forexample, about the increase in the quantity of convicts in the periodof the years from 2000 through 2005. It turns out, this increase tookplace in conditions of a reduction in the level of criminality in thecountry. That is, legal murkiness and mayhem reigned in the country inthese years. There are more convicts than crimes. Kafka can take a rest.

It is noted that «the overall quantity of arrestees …in certainregions significantly exceeds the quantity of places had in SIZOs». Butlater in the text the conclusion is not made: either one has to reducethe quantity of arrests, or increase the quantity of SIZOs.

About the «exceedingly harsh and not always justified practice of theinvestigative and judicial organs during the selection of measures ofrestraint in the form of arrest» the FSIN is speaking not the firsttime already. But not one of the top leaders has left his post as asign of protest against this practice. And not a single president hasreacted to this opinion of the FSIN.

Further on is cited a multitude of numbers by categories of the sitting[Russian for “locked up”–Trans.] contingent: the sick, the psychos, thetuberculars…But there aren’t other numbers: how many convicts dieannually in the FSIN system; how many healthy people have found theirway into the system and have come out of it as invalids; how manyuprisings annually convulse the FSIN system…

The main proposed innovation (and the FSIN has already begun to boastabout it ) – a replacement of the existing system of correctionalinstitution into two principal types of institutions – jails andcolonies-settlements.

Despite the fact that this innovation came from «beyond the hill» andhas proven itself in many countries, I am categorically against it.Even without this Russian camps – are places of tortures, and here it’sbeing proposed to make the conditions of detention even harsher. ARussian jail – this is the conditions of a SIZO: cramped, stuffy andsweltering, ten arrestees per four bunks, 40 minutes exercise,poisonous food, a minimum of medical services, the pressure of thepersonnel… In today’s colonies one can at least move around, but underjail detention these movements are reduced to a minimum.

It is being proposed to use colonies-settlements with intensifiedsurveillance (KPUNs) in the FSIN system. That is, the camp systemremains nevertheless, only it’s called a KPUN, and the name looks morehumane.

All this – the increasing of the kinds of jails, the detailedenumeration of kilograms and seconds for telephone calls andvisitations – is a vivid confirmation that in the country there willALWAYS take place a whitewashing, the appearance of reforming thepenitentiary system – as long as the country is going to be run bypeople who are indifferent to the country, and the FSIN – by peoplewith a repressive way of thinking. Who would beat into their heads thatthey’re depriving people of the freedom of movement, and not of thefreedom to have a decent meal fit for a human being, to communicatewith family, to breathe air!

On the whole, the conception is contradictory: on the one hand,they’re proposing to introduce alternative methods of punishment, onthe other – to expand the arsenal of punishments applied by theadministrations of jails and colonies.

They are proposing to socialize those who have been released fromplaces of deprivation of liberty, but on the other hand – to introduceasocial institutions, such as «recognizing persons as dangerous andespecially dangerous recidivists, creating a system of administrativeoversight under the departmental subordination of the MVD of Russia…»and so forth.

At hand is the striving of the FSIN to loudly declare about how a newbroom has arrived. And that the broom isn’t demanding anything all thatmuch: well, to increase financing a jot, to patch something up and giveit a fresh coat of paint here and there. But in the main – to promiseanything and everything and to remain faithful to the traditions of arepressive totalitarian way of thinking.

*The title of this article references an aphorism of Alexander Galaganov