During a recent visit to Russia PRI London staff members, Nikhil Roy and Jenny Clarkin, together with PRI’s Moscow Regional Director Vika Sergeyeva, met Petr Posmakov, Head of ‘Vozvrascheniye’ programme at the Volnoe Delo Foundation. For the last 18 months, PRI has been part of a multi-stakeholder project funded by the Foundation to improve the rehabilitation and reintegration, and in particular the employment prospects, of prisoners in the Russian regions of Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnodar regions. Here they report on the project’s approach.
The state of the criminal justice system in Russia makes for generally gloomy reading. The total prison population currently stands at 673,818 making it the third highest in the entire world and the country also has a very high imprisonment rate of 468 per 100,000 of the population. Conditions in colonies (as prisons are known in Russia) leave much to be desired; the treatment of prisoners even more so.
In this situation the work being carried out by the Volnoe Delo Foundation comes as a breath of fresh air. Set up by the businessman, Oleg Deripaska, ten years ago, the private foundation funds activities in the spheres of religion, art, culture, and also in penal reform. The Foundation’s work in this area is carried out under the leadership of Petr Posmakov, a former head of prisons and a passionate penal reformer.
Penal projects implemented by the Foundation have a particular focus on post-release reintegration and resocialisation of prisoners. To do this a model of resocialisation has been developed in the last few years working closely with prisoners as well as with different parts of society including Government, non-governmental agencies, the media and local authorities. Engagement with the business community also forms a very important part of the model with the aim of increasing awareness about the importance of proper socialisation of prisoners and encouraging them to create more job opportunities for former prisoners.
As explained by Petr, the development of the model included learning from best practices in Russia and elsewhere and adapting such practices for implementation in select regions of Russia. The implementation of the model focuses on two regions: Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnodar, each with approximately 20 colonies (men / women / juveniles) and with about 20,000 prisoners per region. A pilot colony was chosen in each region and plans were then developed to:
- establish new and specific training /educational programmes for prisoners in the project colonies
- ensure prisoners have jobs while in the prison to enable them to learn practical skills and thereby prepare them for working life upon release
- involve business companies in the project regions as the jobs for which prisoners are prepared should be properly market tested and to provide advice on the training being provided to make sure this is relevant to the jobs available within the community.
The implementation of the model has both common features as well as slight variations in each of the regions based on local realities and requirements. Pilot colonies in both regions have put in place two new sets of job training with a range of six different skills. For example the automotive industry is an important industry in Nizhny Novgorod and prisoners therefore need relevant skills to prepare them for jobs upon release; 200 working places have been provided in the colony. In Krasnodar, however, there is a big need for skills in building repairs and prisoners are trained accordingly. There is an agreement with local factory owners to offer places to prisoners upon release. There is a focus on prioritising people who will continue living locally upon release thereby ensuring the investment in training is worthwhile for employers. Both regions will provide support during detention and for six months after release (and with this in mind agreements have been reached with 86 prisoners who will continue living locally once back in the community).
Petr emphasised that it is not enough just to provide jobs but psychological support is equally needed and a team of psychologists also works with the prisoners. According to him there are a total of 4 different sets of support provided to prisoners through this model including:
- business planning
- computer skills
- cognitive behaviour.
In addition, the Foundation has also supported a competition for journalists to write about successful models of rehabilitation and to raise public awareness of the issue. Success stories to date include 40 prisoners properly reintegrated and with no record of re-offending. The model is also relatively cheap to administer; however a big challenge for the future remains getting support from Government and the prison administration to properly finance the model thereby ensuring its long term future.
PRI is one of the project partners in this project, providing training for prison staff on international standards and the importance of preparing prisoners for release.