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25-26 October 2019 in Berlin : Prisons of Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany : Questioning Prison Violence

On 25 and 26 October 2019, former detainees, researchers, civil society leaders and lawyers will meet at the occasion of the European Lawyers’ Day in the Humboldt University in Berlin to discuss the issue of prison violence as is manifest in Western (Germany, France) and Eastern former soviet (Russia, Ukraine) European prison systems.

>> Download the programme in English, German, French

The contemporary prison is caught in a dense network of interventions by control bodies and binding international standards, which primary purpose are to prevent violations of the integrity of the detained persons, whether these are from the side of prison staff, due to confrontations between prisoners, or even to security management systems.

Almost twenty years after the European Court of Human Rights affirmed the right to decent conditions of detention, has this aspiration for a violence-free sentence succeeded in counteracting  operation modes usually described as inherent to prison? Has the European project for common minimum standards succeeded in overcoming national penological conceptions and professional cultures, in other words overcoming the historical inertia of prison? What resistance/adaptation strategies have deployed prison administrations in response to these reform injunctions? In view of these experiences, what are the ways out of prison violence? Can civil society actors force these transformations? In particular, can lawyers help maintaining vigilance?

The Seminar is held as part of the European Lawyers’ Day and will bring together former detainees, researchers, civil society leaders and lawyers to discuss the issue of prison violence as is manifest in Western (Germany, France) and Eastern former soviet (Russia, Ukraine) European prison systems.

In Ukraine and Russia, the seminar will aim at discussing the respective trajectories of the prison reforms carried out in the countries and to question the capacity they have had to break with the legacy of the Gulag. In what form does prison violence manifest? How does the prison subculture, traditionally associated with a rigid system of castes and informal rules which divides the system between “red” prisons (controlled by prison staff and their henchmen) and “black” prisons (controlled by prison banditry) manifest itself today? Considering the different political and social contexts of the two countries, how do human rights defenders manage to combat abuses and the very punitive rationality of the criminal justice system? A special attention will be given to prisons in the territories of Eastern Ukraine outside government control (LNR and DNR), as they appear to be a blind spot for the rule of law and democratic control.

In contrast, Western prisons have long been governed by policies marked by a strict prohibition of physical violence, and sometimes even by a humanitarian ethos that condemns any form of suffering in the execution of the sentence. Seen from the East, they are often seen as a model to follow. But does such a paradigm not reflect to some extent the disconnection between the discourse on prisoners’ rights and the ordinary reality of prisons? Despite health and material efforts, do security and management imperatives assigned to the prison administration and the absence in prison of any space for conflict condemn the system to deploy forms of violence, which, although more diffuse and/or of a symbolic nature, nevertheless damage the person who is subjected to them? How does prison in a democratic society governed by the rule of law deal with the violence that is expressed inside on a daily basis? From this point of view, do recent public policies that massively direct prison action towards the detection and treatment of violent extremism not mark a radicalisation of the security approach, assuming a certain degree of institutional violence in the name of the necessary risk management?

In partnership with :

European Prison Litigation Network

Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts with the Prison Archive (Strafvollzugsarchiv),

Association Prisons Archive – Strafvollzugsarchiv e.V.,

Republikanischer Anwältinnen- und Anwälteverein e.V.

Vereinigung Berliner Strafverteidiger e.V.

NGO Irkutsk without Torture, Russia

NGO Legal Basis, Yekaterinburg, Russia

NGO Ural Human Rights Group, Chelyabinsk, Russia

NGO Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine

NGO Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Ukraine