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The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"Life in a Russian jail... deprives you of the right to a decent meal"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 July, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Russian prisoners fish for food
Gone fishing: Russian prisoners at work
Gone fishing: Russian prisoners at work
By Steve Rosenberg in Yaroslavl

After the door shuts, cellmates are left fighting for air with 10 other men.

Prison Number One in Yaroslavl
200-year-old Prison Number One in Yaroslavl
There is no room to move. The stench of sweat and urine is almost too much to bear.

It is a terrifying punishment for any crime.

And then there is lunch, or what passes for it.

Two bowls of greasy brown gruel poked through a tiny hatch.

Life in a Russian jail, it seems, deprives you not only of liberty, but the right to a decent meal.

Russia's prisons
Over one million prisoners
Proportionally, Russia has highest number of prisoners in the world
About one in 10 suffers from TB
About 300,000 are awaiting trial or transfer to prison colonies
Almost 100,000 do not have beds and must sleep in shifts

Prison Number One receives just a fraction of the money it needs from Moscow to prevent inmates from going hungry.

It is a desperate situation which calls for inventive solutions.

A small orange speedboat moves across the River Volga and away from the jail.

It is packed with prisoners in jet black uniforms. Seconds later and Prison Number One is just a tiny speck in the distance.

Gone fishing

The men are not sailing to freedom. Instead, they are going fishing.

Prisoner Yevgeny
Yevgeny: The state should be feeding us
In fact, they are Russia's first ever prisoner-fishermen, part of a ground-breaking, self-help scheme to keep the inmates fed.

Digging their boots deep into the river bed, the inmates pull on a rope and slowly haul in their nets.

It is tough work, and a big responsibility.

Yevgeny, a prisoner, knows that tonight's supper depends on what they manage to catch.

"Fishing helps us survive," he says.

"But really and truly it's the state which should be feeding us."

With more than a million mouths to feed in jails across Russia, the state can no longer provide for all.

In the net: Tonight's dinner
In the net: Tonight's dinner
Valery Sergeev is the Russian co-ordinator for the British-based organisation, Penal Reform International.

"No country can maintain, can feed this huge number of prisoners"

"The state always has the excuse that we can't afford to pay pensions, wages to teachers, 'so what do you want from us - that we give this money to prisoners? Try to find your own way out!'"

"So that's why they're sent out to find their own ways out from lack of food."

You cannot say that Prison Number One is not trying.

Pork is also on the menu
Pork is also on the menu
It has built a pig farm round the corner to provide a valuable source of cheap meat.

It has planted cucumbers and potatoes. There are even plans to raise rabbits and chickens.

Back on the River Volga, today's catch is not exactly going to feed the 5,000.

Just a few tiny fish wriggle around in the prisoners' nets.

Catch of the day: Not enough to feed 5,000
Catch of the day: Not enough to feed 5,000
Self-sufficiency may go some way to helping. However, the prison authorities themselves admit it is not the long-term solution.

That lies in reducing the number of prisoners. Only then will the state finally be able to fulfil its responsibilities and ensure that there is enough food to go around.

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See also:

26 May 00 | Europe
Amnesty for Russian prisoners
03 Jun 99 | Europe
Yeltsin pardons death row inmates
02 Feb 99 | Europe
Russia suspends death penalty
10 Dec 98 | 50th Anniversary Declaration of Human Rights
Russia's reputation still stained by human rights
12 Jun 99 | Europe
Russia plans prison reform
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