By Jessy Kaner
BBC Russian Service
The Vospitatelnaya Koloniya penal colony for young offenders in Azov, in the south of Russia, is unusual - it is part of a criminal justice system which is being transformed by juvenile justice.
The colony claims the number who re-offend is around two percent
Juvenile justice is a system of parallel courts for under-18s with emphasis on prevention and education rather than punishment - unknown in Russia since before the revolution.
Launched following a UN initiative in 2001, it has taken off in the Rostov region, and is resonating throughout the judiciary.
The Russian Federation has the third-largest prison population in the world, at around 760,000. About 13,300 of those incarcerated are children between the ages of 14 and 18. Most of those are serving sentences for theft.
These children, most of whom are boys, are kept in what are known as educational colonies for young offenders - there are 61 in Russia.
To get a feel of what life is like there, I handed over my passport and mobile phone at the desk to the sound of the guard dogs barking, and was taken through several heavy metal doors to enter the main gate of the prison.
Meals and anthems
We walked through a yard with high walls and barbed wire on either side, and a new orthodox chapel at one end.
The director of the colony, Sergei Gennadievich Ranikov, told me that the local church had raised the money for the chapel and were very keen on everyone worshipping there.
"The main thing is to keep the boys occupied from the moment they get up until bedtime - that way, they don't have time to misbehave," explained one of the officers.
Sewing together sacks is the main work for the offenders
The boys work in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and laying the tables for meals. I was invited to inspect the food - a greyish broth with meat and pasta, some brownish cabbage, bread and half an orange.
But the main work is in the factory where the boys sew large sacks, which are sold for use outside the colony. They get paid for their work and are allowed to spend the money in the prison shop, where they can buy extra food to supplement the meals.
In the main yard of the colony, the boys gather once a week to sing the national anthem and raise the Russian flag. Only those who have behaved particularly well are given this honour.
Inside a two-storey building where the boys, eat, sleep and have their lessons, the walls were bare and a tiny cupboard beside each of the 40 beds is all that was allowed for personal belongings.
It is hard to believe that around 300 boys live there, because it is so quiet.
Developing the individual
Under the auspices of the regional courts, the school is using an approach advocated by juvenile justice.
"The important thing is that to recognise that each child is an individual," explained Mr Ranikov.
"Developing each child's individuality is crucial."
In a classroom, boys were being shown a video of the life of Jesus. In a lesson, called "moral purging", the boys watch the video and then discuss the question of how to develop self-belief.
The boys could be in any classroom in the world, but for their shaven heads and black prison uniforms. Strikingly, there is no whispering.
They look at us silently with blank expressions on their faces. None are overly keen to talk. All of the boys had been in trouble with the law before.
One, 17-year-old Nikolai, is serving four years for stealing a mobile phone. His friend Andrei is 17 and also serving four years for stealing. He comes from a village not far away.
"There isn't much to do in the village and maybe that's why I got into trouble," he said.
"Life in the colony is alright, but I miss my family."
After school the boys learn brick-laying, plastering and car mechanics.
"One-fifth of the boys who are sent to the colony is homeless," said Mr Ranikov, the director.
"They are grateful to the colony for feeding them, clothing them and giving them an education. Some of them do get into trouble again and are sent back to the colony - but only two or three percent."
'Moral purging' is the subject of classroom lessons
As I finished my tour of the colony, I met a group of boys preparing a concert for Christmas, and I was invited to listen as one of them sang a romantic pop song into a microphone.
Although the boy sang well, I could see no sign of excitement on anyone's face - about the concert or anything else. The only sign of normal life was glimpsed through a window into the kitchens, where the boys, unsupervised for a moment, were grinning and laughing like normal teenagers.
But I left the colony with an abiding memory of an unnatural, heavy silence. In spite of all the guards and teachers' attempts to make everything seem normal, I was inclined to imagine all kinds of unspoken fears lay behind it.
More on this story can be heard on the BBC Russian service on Tuesday 05 December at 1545 GMT.