• Principal Investigator: Prof. Judith Pallot, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.
  • Co-investigators: Dr Dominique Moran, Lecturer in the Geographies of Transitional Economies, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, and Dr Laura Piacentini, Reader in Criminology, Strathclyde Law School, University of Strathclyde.

Project Description

At the end of 2007 approximately 64,000 women were imprisoned for a variety of offences (some relatively minor) in the Russian Federation. Although they constituted a minority of the 890,000-strong prison population, the experiences of women serving custodial sentences in one important respect is typical of the more general experience of Russia's prisoners; namely, that they can be sent thousands of miles to serve out their time in penal colonies and settlements located in remote extra-urban locations. The practice of expelling 'deviants' (however defined at the time) to the peripheries has a long history in Russia and the continuation of the practice into the twenty-first century raises important questions about the direction of change in the penal system in post-Soviet Russia, as well as speaking more generally to theories about the 'geography of penality' and the differential treatment of prisoners in 'high imprisonment societies'.

This ESRC-funded project is informed by the idea that many of the problems in the contemporary Russian penal system (including high rates of recidivism, family breakdown, physical and mental health problems) may be associated with the location of penal colonies. In reforms in 1996/7 the Russian authorities committed the prison service to providing an 'appropriate mix' of facilities in every region, an expensive operation that will take a long time to realize. Women were excluded (among certain other prisoner categories) from these provisions and, as a consequence, they will continue to suffer disproportionately from the problem of distance. The patterns and consequences of the double isolation of women (by virtue of their incarceration and of the remote location of the penal colonies in which they are held) inform the theoretical and practical policy-oriented questions addressed in the research project.

The aims of the project

  • To map the changing geography of prisons and prisoners in the former Soviet Union and Russian Federation to see the continuities and changes in the location of penal institutions.
  • For the sub-group of women prisoners, to determine the extent to which distance and location are a factor in their experience of imprisonment (including the ability/desire to sustain family relationships, patterns of work, mental and physical health, participation in rehabilitation programmes and post-release plans) and post-release re-entry into society.
  • To identify places in which there has been a continuity of use by the prison service from the 1930s to the present time and to investigate the socio-economic interactions with penal colonies.
  • To build upon and extend existing understanding about the Russian penal system by drawing upon the work of criminologists, feminist scholars and geographers on penal culture, the gendering of punishment forms, and the relationship between space and disciplinary power, and to explore the relevance of the Russian experience for the theorization in these areas.
  • To make a positive contribution to debate within Russia about penal reform, in particular in relation to women's imprisonment.
  • To contribute to debate within Russian Area Studies about the continuities and changes in punishment norms in pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history.

The research to date

Any research in a penal environment poses challenges to researchers, never more so when the penal system in question has a long history of secrecy and suspicion of outsiders. Our research began at a time when the window of opportunity for conducting serious social research in Russian prisons was still open; the early work of Laura Piacentini in Russian penal colonies was based on interviews with staff and prisoners in no fewer than 17 penal colonies across Russia. During the course of the research the environment worsened and gaining access to penal colonies in Russia for foreign researchers became ever more difficult. Despite this, the research team has been able to undertake interviews with women prisoners and prison officers in four women's penal colonies: L'govo juvenile colony (VK) for women in Ryazan' oblast, and Colonies numbers 2 and 14 (IK-2; IK-14) and penal settlement number 8 (KP-8) in the republic of Mordovia and interviews are planned for further colonies in other regions. Research for the co-community aspect of the project - involving interviews with local residents in penal regions and a 500 respondent questionnaire survey - have been completed in one penal region. Finally, using data in the public domain we have also been able to produce a series of maps of the distribution of penal institutions and penal populations for the period 1929 to 1961 and from 1998 to the present day: www.gulagmaps.org.

A workshop entitled Gender, Geography and Punishment in Comparative Perspective was held on the 22-23 June 2010, at the Centre for Criminology, Manor Road, and Christ Church, Oxford. The workshop was inspired by this research project and brought together geographers, criminologists, sociologists and anthropologists to discuss how 'space' and 'place' shape modern penal systems and affect the people drawn into them.

The UK Team

Dr Dominique Moran

Dr Dominique Moran

Dominique is Lecturer in the Geographies of Transitional Economies in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at Birmingham a post that she has held since 2004, when she moved across from the International Development Department, University of Birmingham where she was Lecturer in Rural Poverty and Development. She is a specialist on the geography of Russia and is a member of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) at Birmingham.

Dr Dominique Moran's webpage at Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham.

Professor Judith Pallot

Professor of the Human Geography of Post-Soviet Russia, School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford.

An authority on Russian agriculture, Judith became interested in Russia's geography of punishment whilst researching household survival strategies in peripheral Russian regions. An introduction to Laura Piacentini via her former doctoral student Dominique Moran, led to the present collaboration that brings together geographers, statisticians, GIS specialists and criminologists. She has three decades of research experience in archives and the field in Russia and the former Soviet Union. She is responsible for the administration of the project and negotiations with Russian partners.

Prof. Pallot with Major-General Alexander Yakovlevich Grishko, the principal of the Academy of Law and Penal Management, Ryazan' at the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Oxford University and the Academy in autumn 2005. The Ryazan' Academy was involved in setting up the pilot for this research project in the L'govo VK but unilaterally withdrew from further collaboration in September 2007.

Prof. Pallot with Major-General Alexander Yakovlevich Grishko, the principal of the Academy of Law and Penal Management, Ryazan' at the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Oxford University and the Academy in autumn 2005. The Ryazan' Academy was involved in setting up the pilot for this research project in the L'govo VK but unilaterally withdrew from further collaboration in September 2007.

Prof. Judith Pallot's webpage at the School of Geography and the Environment.

Dr Laura Piacentini

Dr Laura Piacentini Surviving Russian Prisons: Punishment, Economy and Politics in Transition

Laura is Reader in Criminology at the University of Strathclyde. She has been actively researching and publishing in the area of contemporary Russian imprisonment for over 10 years and has worked in some 15 penal colonies across Russia. Her book, Surviving Russian Prisons won the British Society of Criminology Book of the Year award in 2005 and was nominated for the Distinguished Book of the Year of the International Division of the American Society of Criminology in 2005. She sits on the Executive Committee for the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland and is Research Associate at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford.

Dr Laura Piacentini's webpage at the University of Strathclyde.

Enquiries

Prof. Judith Pallot ()

Publications arising from the research project

Other Relevant Publications by the Project Leaders

  • Moran, D. (2001) Exile and exclusion - the legacy of Soviet forestry for villages in the north of Perm Oblast. Geojournal, 55: 541-547.
  • Moran, D. (2004) Exile in the Soviet forest: 'special settlers' in northern Perm' Oblast. Journal of Historical Geography, 2.
  • Pallot, J., and Moran, D. (2000) Surviving the Margins in Post-Soviet Russia: Forestry Villages in Northern Perm' Oblast. Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, 41(5): 341-364.
  • Pallot, J. (2002) Forced Labour for Forestry: the Twentieth century History of Colonization and Settlement in the North of Perm' Oblast'. Europe-Asia Studies, 54(7).
  • Pallot, J. (2005) Russia's penal peripheries; Space, Place and Penalty in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30: 98-112.
  • Piacentini, L. (2004b) Penal Identities in Russian Prisons Colonies. Punishment and Society, 6(2): 131-147.
  • Piacentini, L. and King, R.D. (2005c) The Correctional System During Transition. In, W.A. Pridemore (ed.) Ruling Russia: Crime, law, and justice in a changing society, Harvard University and Indiana University.
  • Piacentini, L. (2005b) After the Gulag. New Humanist, 2: 16-19.
  • Piacentini, L. (2005a) Cultural talk and other intimate acquaintances with Russian prisons. Crime Media Culture, 1(2): 189-208.
  • Piacentini, L. (2006a) Russia's Giant Incarcerator: reflections and findings from prison research. Prison Service Journal, 167.
  • Piacentini, L. (2007) Handle with Care: New and Established Methodologies in Prison Research. In, Y. Jewkes (ed.) The Handbook on Prisons. Willan.
  • Piacentini, L. (forthcoming) Burden or Benefit? Paradoxes of Penal Transition in Russia. Special Issue on Transitional Justice From Below, Journal of Transitional Justice, OUP, edited by K. McEvoy.

Presentations to International Conferences using L'govo and Mordovia Results

  • J. Pallot (January 2007) The geography of penality in post-Soviet Russia. The Moscow Higher School of Economic and Social Sciences in the Academy of the National Economy. 14th annual conference 'Which Direction Russia?'
  • L. Piacentini. (July 2007) Law and Society Conference, Berlin. Invited Speakers only, panel convened to commemorate the impact and work of Professor David Garland, NYU on Globalisation and Penal Policy Transfer in States in Transition.
  • J. Pallot (September 2007) 'Russia's penal –industrial complex in transition: the example of the Mordovian gulag'. In the session of the reassertion of the state in post-Soviet Russia. Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers annual conference, London.
  • L. Piacentini and D. Moran. (January 2008) Presented the L'govo and preliminary analysis of Mordovia data at the BASEES Study group on Societal Change in Post-Socialist States, University of Glasgow.
  • J. Pallot (March 2008) 'The construction of femininity in women's penal colonies post-Soviet Russia' at the annual British Association of Russian and East European Studies (BASEES) conference, University of Cambridge.
  • D. Moran (April 2008) Lipstick, Lace and Longing: The construction of femininity in women's penal colonies in the Russian Federation' Annual Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in Boston.
  • L. Piacentini (April 2008) 'The Young Women of the L'govo Colony in Russia: Space, Place and the "Landscapes of Penal Despair"' Annual Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in Boston.
  • J. Pallot (April 2008) 'Reproducing Russia's geography of penality' Annual Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in Boston.
  • L. Piacentini (October 2008) 'Researching the Hidden Penal Communities in Russia', Paper given at the 'Hidden Communities' Conference, Glasgow University, Faculty of Law, Business and Social Science.
  • L. Piacentini (March 2007) 'The Punishment of Women in Russia: Space, Place and the "Landscapes of Penal Despair"', Paper given at Queen's University Belfast, The Institute of Criminology.

Live Broadcasts

  • BBC World Service: J. Pallot took part in a discussion on On womens' prison in Russia - From our Own Correspondent, BBC World Service, Wednesday 11th May 2011.
  • CBC, Canada: J. Pallot took part in a live discussion of Russian women's imprisonment on a breakfast current affairs programme The Current in which she described the ESRC project. November 2006.
  • BBC Radio 4: J. Pallot took part in an item on women's imprisonment in Russia. Women's Hour. 7 November 2007.
  • BBC Radio 3: The Essay – The Lives Of Others Ep 5/5, 11.00-11.15pm, 17 - 21 November 2007.

Videos

Museum of UFSIN, Mordovia (April 2007)

Short extract of an interview with a woman prisoner in Mordovia (April 2007)

Photo Gallery

The following photographs were taken with the consent of the subjects involved.

In the prison school room, L'govo girls juvenile colony.

In the prison school room, L'govo girls juvenile colony.

Girls held in L'govo who volunteered to take part in an informal discussion with the investigators during the planning visit in spring 2006.

Girls held in L'govo who volunteered to take part in an informal discussion with the investigators during the planning visit in spring 2006.

In the otryad (detachment) dormitory in the colony for up to fifty prisoners in L'govo colony.

In the otryad (detachment) dormitory in the colony for up to fifty prisoners in L'govo colony.

The Russian Orthodox Church located in the main compound of L'govo colony.

The Russian Orthodox Church located in the main compound of L'govo colony.

Women's remand (pre-trial) prison in Moscow from which many of the girls held in L'govo come. Other girls in the colony come from much further afield including from Komi in the north and Kurgan in West Siberia.

Women's remand (pre-trial) prison in Moscow from which many of the girls held in L'govo come. Other girls in the colony come from much further afield including from Komi in the north and Kurgan in West Siberia.

Professor Pallot interviewing in IK-2, in Mordovia.

Professor Pallot interviewing in IK-2, in Mordovia.

Meeting with major-general A.N. Mal'kov in the headquarters of the Mordovian penal administration.

Meeting with major-general A.N. Mal'kov in the headquarters of the Mordovian penal administration.

Professor Pallot interviewing the governor of IK-14, Mordovia.

Professor Pallot interviewing the governor of IK-14, Mordovia.

Dr Moran visiting the women's dormitory of IK-2, Mordovia.

Dr Moran visiting the women's dormitory of IK-2, Mordovia.

Dr Piacenti interviewing the governor of IK-2, Mordovia.

Dr Piacenti interviewing the governor of IK-2, Mordovia.

The research team and prison officers at IK-14 Mordovia.

The research team and prison officers at IK-14 Mordovia.