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SHAW Reducing the Excessive Use of Pretrial Detention

SHAW Reducing the Excessive Use of Pretrial Detention

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Published by Francisco Estrada

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Published by: Francisco Estrada on Dec 07, 2010
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Russia has one of the highest prison
population rates in the world, with an
estimated 594 individuals out of every
100,000 residents in prison at the
beginning of 2006.5

This incarcera-
tion rate is eight to 15 times higher
than that in most European countries.
There is also a large population in
pretrial detention. Pretrial detention
centers, known as SIZOs (for sled-
stvennye izolyatory
, or investigative
isolators), are perennially overcrowd-
ed: on average there are 2.4 times the

number of detainees as the facilities
can legally hold (in Moscow it is 2.6

There are frequent and credi-
ble reports of inmates and detainees
being beaten and tortured by law
enforcement and correctional offi-

Prison conditions also fall well
below international standards.

The overcrowded and dangerous
conditions are much worse in pretrial
detention centers than in prisons or
labor camps. As many Russian and
international human rights organiza-
tions have testified, confinement in
SIZOs, where thousands of prisoners
every year contracted tuberculosis as
well as other diseases, amounted
to torture. This conclusion was accept-
ed by different UN and European
Human Rights Commissions in

It was also embraced by the
former deputy minister of justice,
Yuri Kalinin, one of the leading voices
for progressive penal reform in the

The Case of Kalashnikov

The problem of dangerous detention
conditions became especially evident
after Russia joined the Council of
Europe. One of the first cases against
Russia considered by the European
Court of Human Rights was the case
of Kalashnikov, who complained about
both the length of detention and the
conditions in the detention facility.

At the time of the court’s review,
Kalashnikov had been in detention for
four years, one month and four days.
The court accepted the suspicion that
the applicant had committed the
offenses and that the possibility of
interfering with the investigation


Open Society

Pretrial Detention

Russia’s prison and jail populations

rose dramatically in the 1990s, and

overcrowding produced violence and

illness that affected guards and

inmates alike.

could initially suffice to warrant the
applicant’s detention. However, once
the collection of evidence was com-
plete, that argument was moot. The
court also found that detention condi-
tions in Russia were unsatisfactory
and fell below the requirements set for
penitentiary establishments in other
member states of the Council of

Kalashnikov’s cell, designed
for eight inmates, was populated on
average by between 18 and 24 persons.
Inmates in the cell had to sleep in
turns, on the basis of eight-hour shifts
of sleep per prisoner, but even that was
disrupted by the constant lighting in
the cell, inadequate ventilation, and
infestation by vermin. The court there-
fore held that the conditions in the cell
where the applicant was detained
could be regarded as “inhuman or
degrading treatment” and that the
period spent by the applicant in deten-
tion pending trial exceeded a “reason-
able time.”11

Why Are Jails So Crowded?

The conditions in the jail in which
Kalashnikov was detained were not
unique. Throughout Russia in the
1990s, jails were operating at twice
their capacity. There were many caus-
es for this crowding, including
increases in the amount of crime, the
likelihood of prosecution, frequent
use of detention, and slow growth in
the amount of jail space. Although we
do not have reliable information on
rates of crime, we do know from the
Ministry of Justice that between 1993
and 1996 there was a 40 percent
increase in the number of persons
convicted of crime. Even though the

rate at which convicted defendants
were given custodial sentences
remained fairly stable—around 28
percent—this increase in crime yield-
ed a larger number of inmates.12

Detention also was not used spar-
ingly. Many petty offenses in Russia
were criminalized, and the criminal
code allowed judges to assign impris-
onment for most crimes. Experts
from the Council of Europe, visiting
penitentiary facilities in 1994, were
shocked by several cases in which the
offenders were arrested and kept in

pretrial detention for shoplifting three
cucumbers or stealing two jars of jam
from their neighbors.

But the main reason for the lengthy
detentions and overcrowded detention
centers lies in the organization of
Russia’s investigative agencies and the
structure of criminal proceedings as a
whole. The CCP of 1960 determined
exact time limits only in connection
with the length of investigation (with
the possibility of an extension) and set-
ting the date of the trial. The extensive
and very precise requirements regard-
ing evidence collection and the relative
simplicity of getting an extension from
the prosecutor led to a situation in
which the two-month time limit for
investigation was never observed. The
absence of meaningful time limits,
combined with inefficiency in the
investigations, resulted in the over-


Justice Initiative

Case Studies

The cell, designed for eight inmates, was

populated by between 18 and 24 persons.

crowding of detention centers by per-
sons whose cases were stuck at differ-
ent stages of the proceedings.

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