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Surviving Russian Prisons

NCJ Number
Laura Piacentini
Date Published
240 pages
This book examines penal practices in the contemporary Russian prison system, with attention to the changing function of inmate work.
The first chapter describes how the author developed an empirically based contemporary portrait of Russia's prisons. The profile presented is composed essentially of the experiences and perspectives of prisoners, prison personnel, and senior officials. In providing background for a discussion of prison labor in post-Soviet Russia, chapter 2 links the historical literature on prison labor in Russia, the sociological literature on prisons, and the contemporary context. Prison labor is discussed as a penal sanction whose characteristics and purposes are mediated by prevailing political, economic, and cultural conditions. Included in this chapter is an analysis of the current movement to contract services that operate under the international rules for prisoner protection. Chapters 3 and 4 describe changes in punishment and economic practices in Russia as they have impacted the type, organization, methods, and inmate and staff perceptions of prison labor. Findings from site visits to prisons in two regions are analyzed in the next three chapters. Topics addressed include the penal ideological shifts in punishment, changes in the economy of imprisonment, and the "politics of penality" in societies in transition. The discussion in these chapters elaborates upon the Russian penal experience to discuss how penal systems in general are governed in societies undergoing radical transition. The concluding chapter opens a new domain within criminology, i.e., the concept of failed penal societies. It identifies the features of failed penal societies and the consequences of these features for penal reform and developments in mainstream discourses on penal punishment. The chapter argues for using Russia as a model for understanding how penal policy is transferred across time and space, what is transferred, and the links developed between penal policy and globalized processes and policy convergence. 13 tables, 3 figures, and 294 references