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Conditions Deteriorating in Overcrowded Russian Prisons

August 31, 1993

MOSCOW (AP) _ The growing number of felons jailed in the old Stalinist gulag face cramped, unhealthy conditions and a rising threat of violence by other inmates, officials said Tuesday.

More than 800,000 prisoners are now locked up, and the number is expected to reach 900,000 by next year, said Vladimir Bukin, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department.

Crime has been on the rise in Russia since the Soviet collapse and an accompanying breakdown in authority.

The deterioration of Russia’s jails - a third of which were part of the Soviet labor camp system - has resulted in more escapes and rebellions in prisons, Bukin said. Jails are underfunded and understaffed, he said.

Bukin said the situation was worse in preventive detention centers, where prisoners are in custody while police determine whether to press charges.

One-third of the estimated 240,000 people in preventive detention do not have a bunk, forcing prisoners to take turns sleeping. Murders are up 150 percent, and other crimes are on the rise, Bukin said.

According to law, prisoners in preventive detention centers have the right 2.5 square yards of space. On average, prisoners have less than half that.

″All of this creates a psychological overload,″ Bukin said. ″Every other murder is spontaneous ... At night no one can predict anything.″

For the estimated 567,000 prisoners living in jails, life is not much better.

Some of them are forced to live in czarist-era prisons more than 200 years old. Because of space shortages, convicts are still living in 26 prisons that have been deemed unsuitable for keeping inmates.

In July, five inmates were killed and 14 wounded when police broke up a riot by inmates demanding better conditions in their maximum security prison camp near the central Russian city of Vladimir.

But the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the prison system, doesn’t have enough money. Already this year, the ministry is $200 million short of what it needs to run Russia’s jails.

Poor economic conditions have also caused hundreds of factories that once provided work for inmates to end the arrangements. Currently, 112,000 prisoners in corrective labor camps are without jobs.

Idle prisoners have more time to plot escapes, form prison gangs, or commit crimes against other inmates, Bukin said.

Bukin said 36 prison employees have been assaulted this year either by inmates or by outside criminals trying to spring their friends.

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