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Violence in Russian Prisons

Chapter 9 of Farmer’s book, Pathologies of Power, brings up the issue of tuberculosis in Russian prisons and how that relates to violations in civil, social, and human rights. He says that these prisoners are subjected to very long pre-trial incarceration times, leading to a susceptibility to getting TB, which flourishes in the overcrowded conditions of the prisons. He points out that most of the objections to this terrible situation are made through a human rights lens and therefore most human rights groups interested in this issue try to get the incarceration time lowered while people are waiting for their trial. Farmer points out that some inmates have died from TB before their case has even gone to trial, an egregious violation of the prisoner’s rights on multiple levels. However, Farmer also mentions that these human rights violations are tied into the right to medical care, because most TB patients aren’t given an adequate amount of medicine in order to cure it, which is worse than not giving any medicine at all because it can result in the spread of drug-resistant strains. These human rights issues can also be tied to violence in Russian prisons, as I will address further.

In 2010, penitentiary reforms were enacted to lower prison overcrowding in Russian prisons. However, overcrowding is not the only problem, as there is an astounding amount of violence in these prisons, and it is frequently perpetuated or at least accepted by the guards and administrative representatives at the prisons. As this article explains, there is a great need for further prison reform, including the reduction in violence. The high mortality rate in Russian prisons is the result of a multifaceted system of dysfunction. Overcrowding, TB, and violence are among a few of the problems that makes the Russian prison system so problematic. As described here, there is a very high mortality rate in these prisons. Paul Farmer makes the case that TB has a lot to do with that, but violence plays a role as well in not only the mortality rate, but also the overall environment of despair.

As Farmer describes later in the chapter, the way to solving these health crises and to facing other human rights violations is through “the rapid deployment of our tools and resources to improve the health and well-being of those who suffer this violence.” A multifaceted and pragmatic is the best approach to these issues of structural violence.

The following video shows the issues that were being discussed about Russian prisons leading up to the prison reform in 2010. It reports on how graphic videos that showed violence against prisoners were part of the arguments in favor of reform and that it helped push the legislation into existence.


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