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Penal identities in Russian prison colonies

Piacentini, L.F. (2004) Penal identities in Russian prison colonies. Punishment and Society, 6 (2). pp. 131-147. ISSN 1462-4745

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This article explores imprisonment in contemporary Russia. Throughout the 20th century prisoners were central to the maintenance of the Soviet Union through forced labour and political correction that operated within a centralized system of management. It is argued that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, no generally accepted penal ideology has emerged to replace Marxism/Leninism and the function of imprisonment in Russia in the early 21st century is thus unresolved. Findings gathered from four prison colonies in Smolensk, western Russia and in Omsk, Siberia show that rehabilitation is the most widely claimed task of imprisonment, but that practices undertaken in its name vary sharply. The contemporary penal practices have been characterized as new 'Penal Identities'. The specific nature of these identities is explained as a consequence of several developments: the decline of prison work, the location of the regions in relation to the central prison authority and the permeability of the prison system to western influences.