Data and Methodology – The Post-Soviet Penal system and the Quest for Statistics – A Challenge to Social Sciences Researchers

Studying the link between violence in war situation and violence in post-war situation is in the core of our research. Although one should not jump to the conclusion that there is indeed such a link and should explore as well the role of dedovshchina (violent hazing), of shtrafbaty (penal battalions) etc. in veterans’ trajectories, investigating whether military service – especially combat exposure – increases risk for incarceration compared to non-veteran population is a necessary option that may not be an easy task to accomplish in post-Soviet Russia.

In the USA, using prisoner data and comparing them with the census or using data from national surveys of US veterans and non veterans does not seem to be a problem in terms of access. One limitation though in interpreting the data may come from the fact that inmates may not have mentioned that they are veterans “for fear of losing benefits from themselves and their family”1.

In post-Soviet Russia, as in Soviet Russia, statistics are hard to get. The Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments (FSIN) is a secretive institution and accessing the data needed may require more than competence in statistics! One has to develop strategies to collect them.

Official data, when available, are published with scarcity. The number of prisoners and data about them are hold by the Russian government but are not in the public domain. And the different institutions existing in the framework of the Russian penal system (SIZO – sledstvennyi isolator, three types of IK – ispravital’naia koloniia ) make it difficult to draw a map of the general situation.

Searching journals and newspapers published by FSIN such as:

(The journal “Prestuplenie i Nakazanie” is published monthly since 1992 and is intended for the personnel of the ministry of Justice, the FSIN and all the governmental structures.)

(Founded in 2000, “Kazennyi Dom” is a monthly publication devoted to convicts.)

(Published since 1999, “Vedomosti UIS” is a monthly publication aimed at collaborators of the Russian judicial system.)

… may not be a successful option.

Therefore one should consider turning to prisoner support groups, or human rights NGOs which have been working for a long time in the prison environment and have been able to make personal ties with prison administration personnel2.

Among others, associations such as

–          Arestant – a Russian prisoner support network

–          Center for Prison Reform,

may be the ones to turn to.

Special issues of Index such as:

Vse Tyurmy Rossii (All Russian Prisons /


Nevolia, the supplement of Index  (Issue 16-2008 are also recommended for a start….

…to be continued…

  1. Greg A. Greenberg, Robert A. Rosenheck and Rani A. Desai, “Risk of Incarceration among Male Veterans and Nonveterans: Are Veterans of the All Volunteer Force at Greater Risk?”, Armed Forces & Society, Vol. 33, n° 3, April 2007, pp. 337-350. []
  2. On this aspect cf. the interview with Liudmila Al’pern – Center for Prison Reform – published in The Journal of Power institutions in Post-Soviet Societies, issue 9, 2009,, paragraphs 27-30. []

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