Belarus among European Leaders by Number of Prisoners

2007 2007-06-04T10:00:00+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


Belarus possesses one of the highest ratings by the number of prisoners in Europe: 426 people per 100 thousands of population. Those are the data of the latest studies of the International Center of Investigation of Prisons at the London King’s College, the RFE/RL informs. The top ten includes 7 other post-soviet countries.

When analyzing the state of affairs in the penitentiary institutions in the post-soviet area the experts admit that the prisons are overcrowded, their sanitary level is extremely low and the problem of the prisoners’ security is very acute including cases of physical violence and sexual abuse.

Criminology Professor Nils Christi from the Oslo University states that the Belarusian indicator of convicts is 0.5% of the population and he considers it to be very high and the system of punishment to be outdated.

Nils Christi is the author of the so-called alternative conception of punishment, which becomes of high interest in the Eastern Europe. According to it, conflicts and minor crimes such as petty theft or disorderly conduct have to be solved by people and not by the penitentiary system. By the way, the Norwegian indicator of the imprisoned is 61 per 100 thousand people.

The world prisons’ expert is sure that the capital punishment, which is valid in Belarus, ‘the only European country’, cannot lead to murders and other serious crimes decrease.

The same can be said about theft and robbery. The Norwegian professor sees much in common between the Russian and Belarusian penitentiary systems. Once upon a time, in the times of serfdom the prisons in those areas neither were nor overcrowded. Many serfs for disobeying their masters were guarded to the mines of Siberia. Later the serfdom was substituted by the Gulag. The decedents served their terms there. Now they are kept at isolation wards, which resemble torture chambers, side by side with the recidivists. The so-called ‘pressing’- forced testimony taking is common there.

According to the expert, ‘judges in both countries are totally dependent on the acting authorities, because it is the authorities that are the judges’ employers’. The criminologist considers that conviction in Russia and Belarus is overestimated. That is the reason of overcrowded isolation wards. Russian and Belarusian judges very seldom dare to justify defendants. Very often they return the cases to the public prosecutors’ offices. Until the cases are considered the defendants are kept in jail,’ the Norwegian professor is certain.

’Such outdated system of punishment doest not facilitate the prisoners improvement’, Nils Christi remarks.

Barbara Zaurich, volunteer from Germany (by the way, in this country there are 91 prisoners per 100 thousand people) recalls her impressions of visiting Belarusian female jails.

’From the point of view of the Western societies is seems strange that for a petty crime you may be put behind the bars. In our country such actions are usually penalized. Many prisoners degenerate morally. It is difficult for them to integrate into the society after the release. That is a problem,’ Barbara Zaurich says. The top ten of countries with the highest number of prisoners also contains Ukraine (345), Estonia (333). Latvia (292), Georgia (276), Moldova (247), Poland (239), Lithuania (235), Azerbaijan (202). The lowest rating by the number of prisoners belongs to Island. The highest rating in the world by the number of prisoners is assigned to the USA (over 700) and the lowest -to Australia (11).