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#3 - JRL 2008-227 - JRL Home
December 15, 2008
Beginning of [Medvedev] Meeting with Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Vladimir Petrovich, we have discussed various subjects during our meetings here and on other occasions.

Today I want to discuss a matter that you have raised on a number of occasions in the past. It is very common in our country for people who have committed not very serious crimes to be sentenced to prison terms. Unfortunately, this has become something of a tradition, including in the courts, and perhaps our history has had an influence here. But we all know what happens to people when they have spent time in prison, and we know that getting them ready to return to society can take a very long time.

This is why I raised this issue in my Address [to the Federal Assembly], and spoke about it too at the Congress of Judges. Of course, we need to work not only on making the corrections system more humane; we also need to examine the general issue of liability for non-serious crimes, and the kind of sentences, other than imprisonment, that could apply in these cases. In other words, we need to take a look at the kinds of alternative sentences that are widely used around the world, and look at where we could take some steps forward. Incidentally, the agencies responsible for corrections take this same view, because they are not able to ensure that all sentences are enforced in due fashion and sometimes lack the resources even for simply maintaining law and order. The Justice Ministry and the state corrections system therefore share my view on this matter. What are your thoughts?

HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN VLADIMIR LUKIN: Yes, this really is one of the central issues that needs to be addressed as part of the broader work to humanise the correction system. All of the complaints that we receive indicate that this is one of the main problems.

I have to say that, unfortunately, this is one of the traditional issues that keeps coming up, but in this particular case I would say that some new traditions have also emerged. Not so long ago, requests to detain and imprison people were approved in around 75 percent of such cases, while now the figure exceeds 90 percent. I do not know if this is a toughening up or a slip-back to old ways. I think this is something new. But whatever the case, something needs to be done about the situation. Sometimes, the courts just automatically hand down such decisions.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: But there are two sides to this problem. I am talking not just about pre-trial detention of suspects who have not yet been found guilty by a court. That is, I am talking not just about arrest, but also about serving the actual sentence. The whole question of imprisonment is really a question of criminal law policy and the courts decisions, the courts view of how dangerous this or that person is to society, and accordingly the investigating bodies requests.

I think in this case that we need to look at how sentences are served, and examine the Criminal Codes provisions, because as I say, in a number of cases it would be possible to find an alternative to imprisonment not pre-trial detention, but sentences that do not involve imprisonment.

VLADIMIR LUKIN: We have been discussing this matter for a very long time now. I am very pleased that the Justice Ministry and the other agencies agree with this. But we need to turn words into action. Of course there are technical problems related to financing and so on, but these kinds of alternatives exist all around the world. Moreover, I want to say that this whole issue also has a connection to some of the serious social problems we face, problems that emerged in the prison colonies, including in prisons for minors. The educational aspect should be paramount, even within prisons, but even better outside them. But at the moment it seems to be detention that is the paramount factor.

As for serving sentences, of course most minors should be able to serve their sentences not in the form of imprisonment but in alternative forms.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: There is a technical aspect that we also need to examine before changing the laws. After all, deprivation of freedom as a sentence does not necessarily mean having to actually be in prison. Other countries restrict freedom by means such as requiring a person to be in one particular place, and oversee this process using technical control means such as special bracelets and so on.

In other words, there are both technical and legal issues that I think we need to look at. I hope that you will also take part in discussing the corresponding amendments to the law.

VLADIMIR LUKIN: I am ready to take part. Our office has experts well acquainted with these issues.