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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 09:05 GMT
Russian inmates 'ravaged' by diseases
Prisoners exercise in the snowy yard of Nizhniy Novgorod prison in Russia
More than half of Russia's prisoners are ill

Russian Justice Minister Yuri Kalinin has given details of how an epidemic of illness is ravaging his country's prison population, the second largest in the world after the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Putin has tried to reduce Russia's huge prison population
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr Kalinin said that almost 500,000 people in Russia's jails and labour camps are suffering from a range of chronic or serious illnesses.

He said 90,000 have tuberculosis; up to 300,000 have psychiatric problems; more than 100,000 are drug addicts, and alcoholism afflicts over 72,000.

The minister said that official spending on treating these illnesses is growing rapidly, financed in part by international assistance.

But this, he added, is failing to control the situation, with HIV also now spreading uncontrollably.

'Filthy conditions'

Non-custodial sentences in Russia are rare, but the Russian Government has tried to reduce the country's prison population, with a decline of almost one-fifth over the last two years.

However, conditions in the dilapidated prisons and camps, most of them built during the early 20th Century or earlier, are very poor.

Severe overcrowding and filthy, unhygienic conditions are the norm.

Mr Kalinin announced new government plans for tackling the crisis of ill-health in the country's prisons.

Among the urgent measures, the allocation for prisoners' diets is to be increased next year.

Mr Kalinin revealed that spending on food currently stands at just $0.02 per prisoner per day.

See also:

24 Mar 01 | Europe
28 Nov 00 | Health
13 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
26 Nov 02 | Health
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