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Religions et prison

According to Article 14 of the Russian Code on Execution of Criminal Sanctions, detainees are guaranteed freedom of conscience and belief, including the right to profess and practice their religion individually or not to profess and practice any religion, to freely choose, hold and spread religious and other beliefs, and to act in accordance with them. The exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and belief must be voluntary, without prejudice to the internal order of the penal institution and without prejudicing the rights of others. At the requests of detainees and in accordance with their choice, ministers of religious denominations belonging to religious organisations registered by law may be called upon (the initiative of the meeting with a minister of religious cult is always that of the detainee; the legislator has limited the missionary and proselytising activities of religions in penitentiary institutions). Personal meetings of detainees with ministers of religious denominations, not limited in number, have a maximum duration of two hours each.

Depending on the detainee’s request and with the written consent of the minister of religious denominations, their meeting, including the practice of religious rites and ceremonies, can take place one-on-one without being audible to third parties, under video surveillance.

Until recently, there was no State-sponsored prison chaplaincy in Russia. All pastoral work was carried out by the own means of ministers of religious denominations and religious organisations. The number of Orthodox priests performing pastoral work in prisons today is about 1200. The ordinance of the Government of Russia of 17 October 2014 created the functions of “chaplain” in the regional bodies of the Federal Service for the Enforcement of Criminal Sanctions. The priests who perform these functions become civil servants employed by the State. Their total number is 85 for all of Russia. Prison inmates have the right to practise religious rites and ceremonies, and to be in possession of religious objects and religious literature. The prison administration provides the premises for the exercise of religious denominations. The law established that the federal and regional bodies of the Federal Criminal Sanctions Enforcement Service enter into cooperation agreements with central religious organisations (a central religious organisation must include at least three local religious organisations, see Status of religious organisations) to guarantee the freedom of conscience and belief of detainees.
These agreements were concluded between the Federal Service for Execution of Criminal Sanctions and the Russian Orthodox Church, the Council of Muftis of Russia, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and the Traditional Buddhist Sangha of Russia. A programme on the main lines of cooperation was also signed with the Union of Baptists of Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church has a department managing the pastoral service in prisons (anastasia-uz, in Russian).
In 2013, 581 religious edifices were made available in Russian prison facilities, including 517 Russian Orthodox churches, 51 mosques, 7 Buddhist buildings and 4 Catholic. There are more than 780 prayer rooms, including 453 Orthodox, 228 Muslim, 56 Baptist, 28 Evangelical, 10 Buddhist, 8 Jewish and 1 Catholic.
In 2013, 232 (Orthodox) Sunday schools and more than 85 Bible and Koranic schools were held in prisons, attended by more than 7,800 inmates. The ministers of the different religious groups cooperate with the prison administration for the spiritual and moral education of the inmates, their resocialisation, the preparation of the inmates and their release. The ministers of religious denominations participate in parole commissions. About 100 ministers of religious denominations are members of the public councils placed with the regional bodies of the Federal Criminal Sanctions Enforcement Service.

The Russian Orthodox Church has created foundations with some of its parishes to support and assist released prisoners. There exists an Orthodox social programme for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse and recidivism of juvenile delinquency. The Council of Muftis of Russia organises spiritual and moral education for Muslim prisoners and condemns extremist and terrorist activities. The Union of Baptists of Russia has founded more than 100 rehabilitation centres to assist released detainees. In the 6 regions of Russia, the Union of Baptists runs the social project “Youth Against Drugs” to encourage a healthy lifestyle and prevent drug addiction.

D 27 October 2017    AMikhaïl Chakhov

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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