NewsRussia's prison dynamics shift as inmates and guards join Ukraine war front

Russia's prison dynamics shift as inmates and guards join Ukraine war front

Russia sends prisoners to the front
Russia sends prisoners to the front
Images source: © East News | Kaname Muto

1:34 PM EDT, April 1, 2024

Prisoners and prison guards are heading to the Ukrainian front, leading to the emptying and closure of some facilities. It's speculated that new camps may rise in the Ukrainian territories under occupation.

Official figures indicate Russia houses up to 400,000 prisoners. However, despite ongoing arrests and criminal cases, penal colonies are decreasing. This year alone, Mark Denisov, the human rights commissioner for the Krasnoyarsk Territory, reported at least two such closures.

"An alarming trend," Denisov remarked, "is the massive, one-time reduction in the convict population due to the special military operation (the term used by Russians for the war in Ukraine), prompting closures of penal institutions for optimization and cost-saving."

A Quick Trip to the Front

For years, Russia's prisoner count has been on the decline, partly thanks to the decriminalization of domestic violence. In 2023, Vladimir Putin allowed convicts to enlist in the military, significantly contributing to the dwindling prison populations.

"The law now recruits prisoners right from pre-trial detention. Barely processed, you are whisked away from the cell and sent off to war," says Olga Romanova, head of the Sitting Rus Foundation.

Will Russia Establish Camps in Ukraine?

The Associated Press has indicated plans to construct at least 25 new penal colonies within the next two years in the areas of Ukraine under Russian control.

Many prison service employees are eyeing roles in constructing these new facilities, while others find themselves dispatched to the front, leading units alongside former inmates.

"It's a broad net. From bribery to fraud, they're sent from their cells to sign contracts and command in the front lines. It seems half the guards are off building camps, while the rest lead through prison to the front," shares Romanova.

According to Arkady Gostiev, service director, of the 1,600 former employees sent to fight in Ukraine, one in ten has been killed.
The shifting focus presents acute staffing challenges, with about 17 percent of prison positions unfilled.

"Putin's long war means camps become redundant, as everyone is propelled directly to the front," Romanova suggests.

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