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The aim of the seminar is to promote dialogue between academics and civil society activists involved, in their different ways, in promoting a better understanding of crime and a more humane penal system in Russia. The questions will be addressed in 3 sessions, each of which will be focused on a different spatial scale — global, regional and local — and introduced by a keynote speaker.

Academic study of the prison system is poorly developed in Russia and we have to look to civil society organisations for surveys and descriptions of prison conditions in Russian, as well as to the experiences of people who fell foul of the criminal justice system. By contrast, criminology as an academic discipline is well-developed in law faculties in Russian higher educational institutions. The workshop in Oxford will take a historical-geographic approach. Among the topics considered will be: the Soviet legacy in the practices of the criminal-justice system and the prospects for reform in Russia today; the changing relationships between geographical spread of the penal state and the experience of punishment; and the methodological and theoretical challenges the penal system of Russia and the Soviet Union pose for scientific analysis.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Olga Romanova, head of ‘Rus’ Sidyashaya’ (“Русь Сидящая”), а Russian charity organisation that supports convicts.
  • Professor Jeffrey Kahn – “SMU Law School”

Among the confirmed panelists:

  • Professor Laura Piacentini – University of Glasgow
  • Yana Teplitskaya – Public Monitoring Commission, St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Elena Omelchenko – Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, Russia

Session 1 Russia in the Global Criminal-Justice System

This session will focus on the mutual impact of the Russian Federation’s membership in international organisations, including The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT or the Convention) and the Council of Europe. The session will explore the following questions. How far has the transformation of the Russian criminal justice system been influenced by its membership in international organisations since 1991 and how has Russia in turn influenced them?  Through drawing on the knowledge of international and Russian criminology experts and scholars, the session will aim to develop arguments on the nature and process of the transformation that occurred in post-Soviet Russian penitentiary system. The panelists will discuss the factors that have contributed to the isolation of the Russian criminal justice system within the international justice community.

Session 2 The Historical Geography of Crime and Punishment: regional aspect

This session will look at regional and centre- periphery aspects of crime and punishment in Russia. It will explore the extent to which the inherited geography of the prison system influences the experience of Imprisonment in Russia today, and whether it is an obstacle to reform and the challenges of studying it.

Session 3 The Historical Geography of Crime and Punishment: the local level

In this session we go down to the lowest spatial scale and examine prisons and correctional colonies in their local setting and how reforms of the past twenty five years have unfolded at the level of individual institutions, posing the following questions: why can prisons in the same region be so different in terms of governance, processes, treatment of prisoners? And, what could be done to even out the differences?

Due to the space restrictions we are only able to welcome a limited number of guests, so we would ask you to register for the conference should you decide to attend. Please RSVP to Sofia Gavrilova: sofia.gavrilova@chch.ox.ac.uk