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Saturday, June 12, 1999 Published at 01:18 GMT 02:18 UK

World: Europe

Russia plans prison reform

Amnesty plan would apply to low category prisoners

Russia has taken the first steps to reforming the country's overcrowded and disease-ridden prisons.

The lower house of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, has approved the first reading of a bill to free almost 100,000 prisoners.

Deputy Justice Minister Yuriy Kalinin (in Russian)
Under the plan, 94,000 low category prisoners, about 10% of the prison population, would be granted an amnesty.

Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said the reform was intended to humanise the country's prisons and labour camps.

He also encouraged the courts to impose fines and punishments other than imprisonment for minor offences.

His deputy Yuriy Kalinin said: "This is a humanitarian measure which will also resolve the overcrowding issue.

"The prisons should only hold people who have committed dangerous crimes and who should be in prison."

Sleep in shifts

The amnesty would free army veterans who served in combat, disabled inmates, elderly prisoners, women, children and petty first-time offenders.

Correspondents say Russian prisons often hold three times the number of prisoners that they are designed for, forcing inmates to sleep in shifts, while 100,000 inmates suffer from tuberculosis because of overcrowding.

Valentin Borshchev, a member of the liberal Yabloko faction, told the Duma that up to 10,000 inmates die of tuberculosis every year.

He proposed that the amnesty should extend to all tuberculosis and Aids patients, but the Duma did not back his proposal.

The Duma must hold another two readings of the amnesty bill before it is passed.

To become law, it must also be approved by the upper house and President Boris Yeltsin.

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