Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
PRI has been managing programmes in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus since 1998. Our regional office is in Moscow, Russia.
The political situation in the region is unstable. The favourable relationship once enjoyed between the state and independent organisations has deteriorated considerably in recent years. In both Russia and Belarus, the governments have sought to limit the activities of opposition parties in order to sustain the power of the ruling elite. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are experiencing increasingly harsh control from the state.
Legislation has recently been passed in both countries, requiring all public organisations, including NGOs, to be re-registered with the respective justice agencies.
In Ukraine, the political situation is more stable and focused on increased co-operation with Europe. However, frequent changes in the government administration have resulted in the state reneging on commitments to public organisations. The continued detention of political prisoners serves to limit access of public organisations to places of detention.
Criminal justice in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
In Russia, the Federal Service of Execution of Punishments has been managed by the Ministry of Justice since 1998. Regional departments across the country oversee a total of 1,135 penitentiary institutions. These include: 765 correctional colonies (including 45 colonies for women and 62 colonies for juveniles), 211 pre-trial detention centres, seven prisons and a further 153 special units which serve as pre-trial detention centres. There are also 2441 criminal-executive inspections responsible for the management of non-custodial sanctions.
In Ukraine, the Department for the Execution of Punishments has been an independent body since 1998. The prison service currently manages 182 penitentiary institutions, which include: 136 correctional colonies (including 10 colonies for women and 11 colonies for juveniles), 33 pre-trial detention centres and two special units for alcohol addiction. 704 criminal-executive inspections are responsible for the management of non-custodial sanctions.
The Department of Execution of Punishments in Belarus is managed by the Ministry of Interior. The department’s six regions oversee 94 penitentiary institutions, which include: 28 correctional colonies (including two colonies for women and two colonies for juveniles), seven pre-trial detention centres, 51 open penitentiary institutions, two prisons and six arrest houses. There are 155 criminal-executive inspections responsible for the management of non-custodial sanctions.
Penal reform challenges in the region
Despite positive reforms made in each country in recent years, criminal justice systems in the region are in a critical state; violence in places of detention, poor living conditions and treatment of detainees, as well as a lack of public oversight of detention facilities remain widespread. The continued growth in the region’s prison population reflects a series of problems including harsh sentencing policies and practices, where the deprivation of liberty continues to be applied at the expense of non-custodial alternatives.
The over-use of pre-trial detention and imprisonment, along with associated problems of overcrowding, remain persistent challenges within the region. Other criminal justice challenges concern the absence of separate systems for the administration of juvenile justice, weak systems for re-integrating prisoners into society, and the arbitrary detention of political dissidents.
How PRI is addressing these challenges
Key priorities in the region include supporting vulnerable groups in places of detention, promoting a human rights culture and public accountability within prison systems, assisting other civil society organisations in penal reform efforts and promoting alternatives to imprisonment.
In Russia and Ukraine, PRI is working to improve the treatment and living conditions of vulnerable people in places of detention, including children, women and accompanied children. Activities are focused in particular on changing state policies to support the adequate re-integration of vulnerable offenders into society upon release.
PRI is also promoting human rights monitoring in places of detention through the provision of training on international human rights instruments and best practice. Courses have been delivered to state officials, prison staff and local communities in Ukraine and Belarus.
Through the development of specialist resources for government departments and NGOs, PRI is able to promote best practice and improve awareness of penal reform issues. In Russia, PRI has been developing a series of booklets for prisoners to explain their rights and issues relating to their detention and release.
PRI is also engaged in promoting alternatives to imprisonment, focusing on strengthening legislation and offering practical measures to support the implementation of non-custodial sanctions. Activities have included the provision of training for inspectors of the criminal-executive inspections (the agencies responsible for the execution of non-custodial sanctions within the prison services).
Further information about PRI's work in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
PRI roundtable on life prisoners in Ukraine
PRI roundtable on death penalty and life imprisonment in Belarus
PRI's work to develop the public monitoring system in Ukraine
PRI's work for imprisoned women and children in Ukraine
PRI's work to support penitentiary reform in Ukraine
Evaluation of PRI's work to support penitentiary reform in Ukraine
PRI's work in Russia with imprisoned women and their babies
Russia: Women in Prison (PRI Factsheet 2010)
PRI interviews with prison personnel in Russia dealing with lifers (2006-2007)