News Investigations

Context. The Russian prison administration has been accused of using detention facilities as torture facilities. Thousands of videos have captured scenes of violence, humiliation and rape. The article published on 6 October 2021 in Le Monde provided a rough overview of the information which Prison Insider recently received. Different prisons, the same brutality: read on to learn more.

Warning: this article mentions reports on violence. The text, the links and images may include potentially disturbing content.

All of the prisoners who gave testimonies were imprisoned in the Angarsk Penal Colony No. 15 (IK-15) on the day of the riot. However involved they were, their stories, as well as those of their loved ones and lawyers, attest to a systematic use of torture as a means of repression throughout the prisons in the Irkutsk region.

Prisoners were beaten, insulted and humiliated.

More than 300 prisoners suspected of having participated in or organised the insurrection to other prisons in the region

Prisoners were unable to ask for help due to the danger they faced inside the prisons

His lawyer said he had been disfigured

Beatings, blows from batons, a diverse range of tools, electrocutions to the genitals...

The prison staff placed him upside down after stripping him naked and then beat and raped him with batons

The Russian prison system

The unofficial hierarchy in the Russian prison system

The Russian prison system inherited the same hierarchies that existed in the Gulags. This form of governance fosters certain power struggles within the prisons. The facilities fall into two categories: Red facilities, which are completely controlled by their administration, and black facilities where certain prisoners wield considerable influence which challenges the administration’s control over their facility.

  • The culture inside prisons consists of a precisely structured unofficial caste system. The system attributes specific roles and a place in the hierarchy to different prisoners. The thieves (Блатные), the unofficial rulers in the prison, sit at the top of the hierarchy. They are forbidden from working and are responsible for arbitrating any disputes between prisoners and keeping the peace.
  • Prisoners who collaborate with the administration, the goats (Козлы), receive favourable treatment in exchange for their services (surveillance missions, interrogations). Their security therefore depends on the degree of control the administration holds over its facility.
  • The roosters (Петухи) are the “disgraced” prisoners. They are responsible for cleaning the toilets and emptying the bins. They are not allowed to mix with the rest of the prison population and are bound by a harsh set of rules.

These castes are heavily tied to the internal power struggles in the prisons. Rape is used a way of disgracing influential prisoners and lowering them in the hierarchy. The caste system also serves as a method of intimidation in the “Press Khata” (пресс-хата), the unofficial cells where prisoners are interrogated and tortured.