“Development of the penal enforcement system: the view of civil society”

8 November 2021

The chairwoman of the Interregional non-governmental human rights organization “Man and Law” Irina Protasova took part in the two-day conference “Development of the penal enforcement system: the view of civil society”, which was held in St. Petersburg.  

The meeting was organized by the public human rights organization “Civil Control”* in cooperation with the project “Woman. Prison. Society”. The conference was attended by members of non-profit organizations from 11 regions of Russia, including members of Public Monitoring Commissions.

The idea of the conference to gather human rights defenders to discuss the topic of women in prison and medical care in places of detention was proposed by Leonid Agafonov, a coordinator of the human rights project “Woman. Prison. Society”. There are currently over 38 thousand women in Russia who are in prison. Some of them get in prison already being pregnant and give birth in custody. Leonid has experience visiting prisons as part of the PMC. He is familiar with the problems of the women who are held there firsthand. According to him, women are an absolutely unprotected group, which most often acts as a victim. We can say that a discriminatory norm applies to them. The situation is even more difficult for pregnant women and women with children, for them, in most cases, there are no necessary conditions at all.


Another case is when a woman ends up in prison, and a child ends up in an orphanage or a foster family. Yana Gelmel, a human rights activist from Yekaterinburg, in her speech touched upon the problem of communication between imprisoned women and their children, told about cases when there was a complete breakdown of social ties and a lack of mutual understanding. The child accumulates resentment against his mother due to lack of communication, which in turn turned out to be in the rigid framework of the system. There are examples when the administration of orphanages in every way prevents communication between mother and child, referring to the negative impact. Moreover, it is not uncommon for a mother to not know which of the children’s institutions her child is in. The system, in principle, does not have a mechanism for such notifications, which needs to be changed.

Chairwoman of NGO “Man and Law” Irina Protasova:

During the conference, issues related to the observance of the right to communicate with the family during the pandemic were raised. Our organization, in its report on the results of monitoring “Respect for the right to privacy in detention facilities”, has already proposed a number of recommendations, but new problems arise, for example, where to get funds for conducting expensive PRC tests (without which they are not allowed to meet with relatives) and using video conferencing to communicate with children? One thing is certain, the Ministry of Social Protection, the Ministry of Education and the Federal Penitentiary Service, with the mandatory support of the Children’s Rights Commissioners and, of course, human rights organizations, should work together to solve problems related to the preservation of prisoners’ social ties with children and the observance of children’s rights. In addition, colonies should be open to people who do not belong to the system: psychologists, social workers, volunteers, etc.

Another problem that was discussed at the conference: the foster family or the administration of the orphanage is not obliged to notify mothers about their children and to keep in touch with them. In this regard, it is necessary to look for alternative solutions. For example, in a contract with a foster family it is possible to prescribe this as a separate item (meeting, calls – any form of communication), and at the level of the Criminal Executive Code to oblige the state to provide telecommunications for children with their parents without restrictions. The issue of financial support of a child on a date with his mother is particularly acute.

Children in detention facilities are a separate topic for discussion, which was also touched upon during the conference. Lidiya Simakova, a member of the Tomsk Region PMC, shared her positive experience of rehabilitation work and support for teenage girls on the example of Tomsk educational Colony No. 2.

The rights of HIV-positive convicts, as well as transgender people in places of detention were considered separately.

A special block within the framework of the program was allocated to discuss the prospects of the work of Public Monitoring Commissions. Currently, the selection of candidates raises many questions and, as a result, the qualitative composition of the PMC. The conference participants agreed that the process of training and mentoring is important for new members of the PMC. It is necessary to raise the level of awareness of citizens about the work of the commissions, to support the legal literacy of the members of the PMC themselves.

All the proposals developed during the conference fully fit into the context of the legislation changing within the framework of the “Concept of the development of UIS in the period up to 2030”. They will be finalized and proposed to the authorities for implementation. If the Concept itself has not been discussed with society, with experts in the field of human rights, now it remains for us to help the authorities in implementing those provisions of it that should change and improve the situation of prisoners, women prisoners and women with children in a timely manner.

*By the decision of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, the St. Petersburg NGO “Civil Control” is included in the register of non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent (7-FZ “On Non-Profit Organizations”).

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