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February 11, 2009
[Medvedev] Opening Address at the Meeting of the State Council Presidium “On the Condition of the Correctional System of the Russian Federation”

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Good afternoon, dear colleagues.

Our agenda includes a most important question: the condition of the correctional system and approaches to its long term development in the period to 2020, in any case that is how we are formulating our plans for the development of the economy as a whole.

Naturally the development of our correctional system must take place alongside the development of those political components, of the whole political system of the country, in pursuit of the democratic and progressive development of the state on the basis of the Constitution and on the fundamental provisions which guarantee those most important human rights and freedoms to our citizens.

For a very significant length of time, for many decades of the twentieth century, our correctional system, much like the penal policy of our country as a whole was predominantly repressive. And this is most likely the fundamental reason why the correctional system itself is in such a difficult, complicated, condition.

For a long time our country had one of the highest numbers of prisoners. And we understand that the conditions those prisoners were kept in were all too often simply inhuman.

Recently the system has begun to change, and quite significant changes have taken place. A series of laws have been passed, including legislation on the social control over ensuring prisoners' rights. There is a separate category of inmates who are free to make their own way to the place of incarceration. I think, without a doubt, that the increased financing of the system has had a positive effect. In recent years the level of financing has grown ­ in the past decade by in excess of twelve times.

The leadership of the penal system has worked to improve the inmates' diet, their medical care, education, conditions of imprisonment, as everyone admits, including the experts. Nonetheless, we all understand that there is no reason to be pleased with the state of the correctional system.

In general and in total the overall number of prisoners has decreased. At the beginning of this year they numbered about 890 thousand, still a very high number, and incidentally the decrease is above all due to the detention centres.

In addition to that, the composition of the prisoner population has in recent years seen an increase in those sentenced for serious, and very serious crimes. The number of prisoners suffering from drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and the number of people with psychological abnormalities also increased. All this certainly serves to further complicate the already difficult work of state correctional systems.

In connection with this I will kick off the discussion by naming several tasks that I think are most important, most vital and immediate.

The main aim of reaching these goals, is of course, to ensure that we attain a needed level of humanity in our penal system, that we improve the conditions of incarceration for those who are prisoners, and that our penal system and its basis in law is in full accordance with international standards.

Naturally, I would like to stress one thing, that as a whole the correctional system, or penal system as they call it, directly depends on how the court system functions, and how the law enforcement agencies work. Correctional institutions exist at the very end of the chain, and in essence, simply carry out those decisions and sentences that have been made by the court previously, on the basis of the initial investigation.

Of course the system has its problems and inadequacies in each link of this chain. And, unfortunately, this often means that direct harm is done to the lives, to the health of people, and incidentally, both the maintenance of this system, and the subsequent individual rehabilitation required costs the state a huge amount in social and physical resources.

Today we must talk about the perfection of court practice, the process of handing down sentences in different cases, and in particular about the issue of intervening, for example through detention on remand for low level and moderate crimes. I think that we should discuss this subject, and that we could consider alternative punishments, which do not involve depriving the individual of their liberty, and which wholly correspond to our policy in this area.

One of the paths to resolving this problem is of course in the reduction of the number of people taken into custody, and also in the introduction of intervention which involves limited freedom. The draft law on this subject is already being considered by our parliament, having been passed on first reading in July last year.

It's also possible to consider such measures as bail, the introduction of house arrest, and also issues to do with the use of other forms of punishment not associated with depriving an individual of their freedom, such as fines, and so on.

In addition to that we need special and effective social rehabilitation for those people who have served their time. This cannot be accomplished without the involvement of regional authorities, and that is another reason why this question is up for consideration today by the meeting of the Presidium of the State Council. In those regions where this issue is being worked on actively, where action is being taken, the crime rate decreases.

Let me remind you that annually there are up to three hundred thousand people released from prison, and places of incarceration. We also need to consider what is called the repeated relapse into crime, or those who slip back into their criminal ways. There is a clear, direct link between these relapses into criminality, and those measures of social rehabilitation that are taken.

One more subject that should be discussed, because we are considering this issue as a whole, is the improvement of wages, social protection, and professional training for penal system staff. It is no secret that work in this sector is very difficult, very complicated, and to put it mildly, it is not always an attractive profession. While we are suffering the effects of the crisis, this is a problematic question, and we also need to consider how to create motivation in the system.

Finally, one serious issue that requires state action and support is an efficiency analysis of the current production activities of the correctional system. This needs to be optimised, including from the perspective of a demand for jobs. And here too the position taken by our country's regional authorities will play an important role.

On all the issues that we will consider today, I will give my direct instruction to the Government to prepare the basic draft documents on concrete positions that we will discuss today regarding the improvement of the laws themselves, and on the improvement of our policy in this area.

We all understand, that policy will not be made only by some sort of top down directive, (after all, there is no such thing, we have a fully independent judiciary), but that policy is wholly the result of the actions of all the authorities. It is the result of the application of the current criminal and criminal procedural legislation, and also the result of that work which is carried out in the regions, on social rehabilitation, social adaptation, or socialisation, as it is often called, of those people who have been sentenced to this or that punishment.

I would like in conclusion to my opening address, to underline the fact that we have so far taken only the very first, but very important, steps towards the creation of an efficient, just and civilised penal system in our country.

The conditions of incarceration in correctional facilities, in spite of the fact that people are sent there as a form of punishment, and clearly any punishment must contain a degree of repression, but in spite of this these conditions must be acceptable and civilised. And those who have served their sentences must be prepared for their return into society, so that they can lead well rounded, normal, lives.