In the first major effort to upgrade a prison system that has changed little since Stalin established it more than 70 years ago, Russia will separate career criminals from the general prison population and house them in new prisons with cellblocks, rather than barracks, reports the New York Times. President Dmitri Medvedev, a lawyer who has championed an overhaul of the justice system, is pushing the measure to break up the culture of barracks life and to do away with common inmate housing almost entirely.
Common barracks are unusual outside the former Soviet Union and parts of Africa, says London-based Penal Reform International. Western European and U.S. correctional institutions rely on large cellblocks, with a few inmates to a cell. Most Russian prisoners – 724,000 out of a prison population of 862,000 – live in freestanding barracks, rough-hewn, low-slung buildings of wood or brick encircled by barbed wire, usually in a remote place. Low-cost and high-volume, they are upgrades of camps dating from the 1930s to 1950s and hold the second largest per capita inmate population in the world, trailing only the United States.