President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Minister of Justice Konstantin Chuychenko: Good afternoon, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Chuychenko, you know that I met with members of the Presidential Council for [Civil Society and] Human Rights, and there were many questions concerning your Ministry. I will not list them all now. I know that you have worked on many of them and that you have relevant proposals and ideas that you too would like to share and discuss.
Please, let us begin.
Konstantin Chuychenko: Mr President, let me present two problems pertaining to the activities of the penal and correctional system.
At the present time, about 100,000 people are released from prison facilities every year. But often these people are not ready for life outside prison walls: they cannot get a job, lack the money necessary to start a new life, and, of course, they need help. In this connection, the level of backsliding is very high – about 44 percent – which means that 44,000 people out of every 100,000 will return to prison.
We think that this problem should be addressed in all seriousness, and we should start dealing with it well in advance, while they are still in penitentiaries. We suggest creating a relevant service within the Federal Penitentiary Service, which will tackle these issues on a systemic basis, preparing people for release and engaging in their social adaptation, resocialisation, and subsequent rehabilitation. Moreover, this should be done on the basis of an individual programme that will operate, as we see it, for nearly a year. And this will be a person’s right rather than a duty. I mean, this system will come into effect with regard to a convict only if he or she agrees to it. I would like to note that the humanitarian component will be of highest importance in the work of the people who will be employed by this service, who work in this field. Clearly, there will be a service component too, but…
Vladimir Putin: The financial component is also needed.
Konstantin Chuychenko: Certainly! But these people must have competences in the social services area. Properly speaking, their main task is to bring people back to the mainstream, return them to normal human life, so that they do not commit any more crimes. We proceed from the assumption that this service should involve about 50,000 people: these people will possess relevant knowledge, including in the area of psychology.
We have now drafted a law on probation. This is the service we are talking about, and we are deliberately discarding the word “inspection” here because an inspection is more like an oversight and monitoring agency. But this activity is closer to the human soul, and I would daresay that this is a human story. Consequently, these people should possess special knowledge, and we will have to establish an academic discipline for training relevant specialists.
And we have already prepared a relevant draft of the law on probation; this document is nearing completion. We are now in the final stage of the approval procedure, and I believe that we will be ready to submit it to the Government for its subsequent submission to the State Duma. Therefore I would like to ask you to approve these steps, and I believe that we will set up the service by mid-2023, maybe not in full force, but already functioning to a considerable extent.
We have a proposal in this connection. Since this is a new undertaking, we believe we should work on this project rather seriously. Although the law has not yet been approved, it is necessary to launch all preparatory work now, and to make this whole thing work effectively, I believe we should introduce the position of a deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service who will be in charge of probation. I would like to ask you to approve this proposal. Deputy director would start the creation of this service.
Vladimir Putin: All right. It appears that you should also keep a register of these people – those who undergo this procedure.
Konstantin Chuychenko: Yes, certainly. Of course, we will work on this register.
Actually, the initial work will be conducted in prisons, and then, when the person is released, this work will continue. They will be entitled to education opportunities, they will get the assistance needed to gain access to all social services, medical services, and they will get legal and psychological counselling. And, of course, we will help them establish socially beneficial connections.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Konstantin Chuychenko: And the second issue, Mr President, is regarding the development of correctional centres.
As of today there are about 350,000 people serving terms at correctional facilities. In 2017, a law came into force, under which prison terms can be commuted to correctional labour. Under the current law, about 180,000 convicts can avail themselves of this right.
The problem is we do not have the appropriate places for them to serve their sentences. It is clear that far from all 180,000 convicts are eligible for correctional labour because many are simply not on the right track. In this respect, the relevant services will screen the eligible.
But we believe that at this moment, about 100,000 prisoners do deserve to be transferred from detention to places they can engage in correctional labour. Those who work at correctional centres are not regarded as prisoners. Legally they are free. But it is understood that they are under criminal punishment, which means that there is a punitive component, and they are subject to certain restrictions.
The merit of this measure is that people work, earn money, and are preparing for release. In addition, they are creating a foundation because they receive wages that do not undermine their human dignity, they enjoy normal living conditions, have an opportunity to see their relatives, and visit a [nearby] town. In addition, I can say that this form of punishment is much easier on the federal budget because, for example, it costs 500,000 rubles per convict to create one job, if we are talking about light non-permanent structures. This is much cheaper than creating a job at a detention facility. And, accordingly, they actually pay their own basic costs.
Today, we have created 15,000 jobs, and we would like to create about 100,000 jobs by the end of 2024. Consequently, the prison population would dwindle considerably.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s do this. How has the prison population decreased in the past few years?
Konstantin Chuychenko: Mr President, I have here some reference materials which are very interesting, by the way. Look here, please.
Vladimir Putin: The 1913 prison population was 194,000.
Konstantin Chuychenko: 194,000, and we are talking about the Russian Empire.
Vladimir Putin: The population was small.
Konstantin Chuychenko: The population was 134 million, and it was not much smaller than the current population.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, the Soviet Union had a larger population.
Konstantin Chuychenko: The sampling here might not be very accurate. It is necessary to become immersed in the statistics; unfortunately, we do not have the option to compare and verify them.
Vladimir Putin: In any event, the number of inmates in 2000 was 1.06 million, and the figure dropped to 483,000 in 2021. Not all these people are in prison; quite a few are in pre-trial detention centres.
Konstantin Chuychenko: Yes, 109,000 are currently in pre-trial detention centres.
Vladimir Putin: As I understand it, we are talking about 483,000 people in prison, minus 109,000?
Konstantin Chuychenko: Minus 109,000, yes.
Vladimir Putin: And in 2000, the prison population was 1.06 million.
Konstantin Chuychenko: Yes, we have reduced it more than two times over. And, if we accomplish all our plans under the recently approved Concept for developing the penal and correctional system through to 2030, then the prison population will drop to 300,000. Also if we create the system of correction centres, we will considerably reduce the number of inmates.
Vladimir Putin: Good.