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Barter in Russian prisons

Piacentini, L.F. (2004) Barter in Russian prisons. European Journal of Criminology, 1 (1). pp. 17-45. ISSN 1477-3708

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This article discusses findings from research in Russian prison colonies. There has been a decline in central government funding of prisons in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This has led to the utilization of barter to provide maintenance and resources for prisoners and staff. I argue that the introduction of barter has created a unique scenario in which the sustainability of the prison infrastructure is dependent on community involvement. Current practices can be looked at in two lights. On one level, a very high prison population is maintained because the prisons have become economically self-sufficient and this might lead to prisoner exploitation. On another level, current practices suggest a symbiotic relationship in which the prisons and the local community are dependent on each other for survival. As Russia moves towards greater economic stability, the potential concerns posed by the use of barter provide further opportunities for criminological research.