Conflict & Justice

Russia's penal system after Solzhenitsyn

In �The Gulag Archipelago� Solzhenitsyn opened the world's eyes to a system of cruelty. This Human Rights Watch official in Moscow recognizes that Russia is no longer the place that Solzhenitsyn described but that doesn't mean human rights in Russia are in good shape. She says the system is still flawed, particularly when it comes to the actions of poorly trained prison guards, and they often provoke prison riots when prisoners are then beaten further. The abuses run right through the criminal justice system according to this scholar. He says that flaws are evident at every stage and one example is police performance reviews are tied to tallies of cases cleared which leads to false arrests, and the trial system is heavily weighted in favor of the prosecution. Both these analysts say the judicial system is better than what Solzhenitsyn saw, but the Human Rights Watch official says brutal treatment of prisoners has gotten worse in recent years, and ordinary Russians don't pay much attention. Still there are hints of reform in the air. The Russian Parliament recently adopted a law which allows civilian oversight of the prison system and Medvedev has made reforms a talking point, but this is still just rhetoric at this point says this analyst. In the end, the Human Rights Watch official says these reforms should be adopted because Russia claims now to be a democracy, and not a Soviet state.

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