#22 - JRL 2009-237 - JRL Home
Russian rights activist, experts welcome changes to legislation on imprisonment
December 29, 2009

The law on the enforcement of punishment in the form of imprisonment signed by Russian president Dmitriy Medvedev on 29 December is evidence of the humanization of the punishment system, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva believes, Interfax news agency reported on the same day. Among changes to legislation introduced today are the abolition of the pre-trial arrest of those suspected of economic crimes and a reduction in the penalty for first-time tax offenders.

"This is very wonderful," Alekseyeva said while at the same time lamenting the readiness of the Russian authorities to arrest people. "There is bail, house arrest and restriction of visiting; it is possible to think up all kinds of ways to punish people for minor offences," Alekseyeva said, noting that "if the offence is not connected with violence against another individual, there is no need to imprison a person".

She added that on no account should people be imprisoned for economic crimes before their trial. "I hope the president understands that there is no need for imprisonment for economic crimes but it is necessary to punish with fines or small restrictions of movement," she said.

For her part, member of the Russian Public Chamber and head of the public council of the Federal Penal Service Mariya Kannabikh welcomed the law and said that she believes it will reduce the amount of criminal recidivism.

"Alternative punishment is a panacea, an escape from repeat crime and its growth," she said.

According to Kannabikh, almost half of crimes are repeat crimes, and are committed because the person has fallen into a criminal community.

"It is thought that we have 30 per cent of such crimes, although I of course believe that there are more of them - around 45 per cent," she said.

Similarly, lawyer Genri Reznik thinks that "any relief of punishment in the form of imprisonment should be welcomed", Ekho Moskvy news agency reported on the same day.

Explaining the need for the introduction of this law, Reznik said, "At present the situation with corruption is going off the scale; everything should be normal but in this case it is already a threat to state security. Corruption has become a social disaster, therefore such a change in the law was needed. Opportunities to evade the law will never be fully eliminated but they will be hampered now by these changes; I welcome them".

Another lawyer Mikhail Barshchevskiy, who is the Russian government's representative in the Constitutional Court, told Ekho Moskvy radio station that house arrest will become "the main and sole" measure of punishment for those who have committed minor crimes.

"We are taking the European path - the idea is such that the people in prisons will be those who have to be in prison: rapists, paedophiles and murderers," Barshchevskiy noted. "(For) those who pose great social danger - this will be penal settlements."

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