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Crime and punishment: Prisons in post-Soviet Russia and Kazakhstan

University of Strathclyde

The changing nature of prisons and punishment in Russia and former Soviet states is being explored in an international study led at the University of Strathclyde.

The research, the first study of its kind in world Criminology, will examine prison conditions, incarceration rates and penal policy processes since the USSR ceased to exist in 1991.

It will also investigate social attitudes towards punishment and consider how depictions of punishment shape cultural perceptions of history, political power and relationships between citizens and the state.

The project has received funding of £735,000 from the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). It also involves the Institute of Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London, the Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg and the University of Nazarbayev in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Professor Laura Piacentini, of Strathclyde's School of Social Work & Social Policy, is leading the research. She said: "Russian imprisonment was the most awesome system of penal power in the twentieth century. This study will look at ways in which punishment has been implemented, the ways it is perceived and how this perception is culturally consumed.

"There are ideas of punishment in Russia which have become ingrained in the national psyche through history and literature and prisons are often seen as political entities.

"Russia has a complex relationship with the West and questions are asked over the level of funding and conditions in prison. We'll be looking to further understanding of its culture of punishment."

"We'll be evaluating the culture and policy of prisons by speaking to prison governors and policy-makers including justice ministers and senior government officials. We're also working with partner museums which are well-known across Russia for their work on memorialising the penal and political oppression of the Soviet period."

The project also involves an international advisory board of world experts in the fields of visual criminology, international prisons and popular punitiveness.


The University of Strathclyde has been ranked joint first in the UK for Social Policy in the 2019 Complete University Guide.

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