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Russia’s prison population falls to a record low – still large by European standards, but far smaller than US’

Russia’s prison population falls to a record low – still large by European standards, but far smaller than US’
Russia’s prison numbers have been falling for two decades, due to the liberalization of the penal system and use of alternative penalties. For the first time, fewer than 500,000 in the world’s largest country are now incarcerated.

“Today, there are 496,791 people in the correctional facilities,” the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) announced on Thursday. “These are both citizens who are in pre-trial detention facilities on suspicion of committing crimes, and convicts in penal colonies.”

Particularly notable is the significant fall in the number of convicts in those colonies. It now totals 391,614, versus 463,000 early last year.

The Russian figures remain high when measured against those in the rest of Europe, with only Belarus having more people currently imprisoned per capita. The incarceration rate is around three times higher than that of France and more than two times larger than the United Kingdom’s. However, it’s now around half that of the United States, which has the world’s largest overall prison population. 

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In recent years, there has been a stable decline in the number of individuals kept behind bars in Russia. “This is linked to a broad use of alternative penalties other than imprisonment, and the liberalization of the penal and correctional policy in general,” the FSIN explained.

In the past five years, the number of inmates in penal colonies with two, three or more convictions has declined by a third. The federal prison authority notes a positive trend concerning individuals convicted for the first time – the number of such people in penal colonies has dropped by 26 percent since 2015.

In February, President Vladimir Putin said the number of inmates in Russia’s correctional system had declined by roughly 50 percent over the past two decades, without it being widely heralded. Putin said this was a revolutionary development.

“The amount halved. Decreased quietly, with no fuss,” he noted. “It’s been taking place gradually, as a result of various decisions liberalizing the legal responsibility of citizens who committed minor offenses, or first-time offenders, and so on.”

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