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262S11+_22Russia_s+penal+peripheries%2C_22+2005

262S11+_22Russia_s+penal+peripheries%2C_22+2005 - Russias...

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Trans Inst Br Geogr NS 30 98–112 2005 ISSN 0020-2754 © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2005 Blackwell Publishing, Ltd. Russia’s penal peripheries: space, place and penalty in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia Judith Pallot Russia has a distinctive ‘geography of punishment’ that is the product of the use of the peripheries as a place of exile and incarceration. Framing the analysis in a discussion of recent penal theory, including in the works of Michel Foucault, the author traces the formation of Russia’s penal peripheries up to the present day and uses the example of the north of Perm’ oblast to analyse the process involved in forging a ‘penal region’. key words Russia penology internal exile corrective labour institutional geography School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford email: [email protected] revised manuscript received 15 April 2004 Introduction At the beginning of 2003 there were nearly one million people detained in Russian penal institu- tions (Table I). This number is an improvement on the middle 1990s, when Russia topped the world league for rates of imprisonment, but it still exceeds the final year of the Soviet regime when the prison population stood at around 762 000 (Mikhlin and King 1996, 225). The recent fall in numbers is not the product of fundamental change in the penal system but of amnesties aimed at reducing the catastrophic levels of prison over- crowding (PRI 2000, 1). Contemporary Russian prisons are in crisis; levels of morbidity and mortality are high, antibiotic-resistant TB rife and food inadequate. Yet, Russian courts continue their previous harsh sentencing practices, awarding custodial sentences for first time or relatively trivial offences (Abramkin 1998, 2–3). This is an aspect of the post-socialist ‘transition’ that has not been commented upon by the architects of neo- liberal strategy to whom current practice is viewed as part of the ‘communist legacy’. According to this perspective it is just a matter of time before Western-type individualized disciplinary/punish- ment regimes, including the whole gamut of non- custodial sanctions from probation to tagging, will be put in place. However, there is an alternative non-teleological view of the continuities in Russian punishment forms which argues that there are deeply ingrained understandings about the nature of punishment that are culturally specific to Russia and that continue to inform the choices made about penal justice. David Garland (1991, 210), in his extension/corrective of Michel Foucault, reminds us that punishment is a form of social significa- tion; ‘penal cultures’ consisting of theories about punishment, stored up experience and professional common sense exist in all societies and inform the actions of penal agents, giving meaning to what they do.
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