After Russian officials bemoaned the collapse of migrant labor in the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the country's prison service offered a solution: reviving the Soviet-era practice of putting convicts to work. Just don't call it a Gulag.
An association with one of the darkest chapters of the Communist past hasn't deterred top bureaucrats, who've taken up the idea with enthusiasm. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin recalled he once worked with prisoners at a brickmaking factory as he told an RBC news interviewer Friday that he's in talks on using convicts at construction sites, a plan also endorsed by Industry Minister Denis Manturov.
The head of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Kalashnikov — yes, like the famous arms dealer family who invented the AK-47 — reportedly broke the news to human rights officials last month. "This won't be a Gulag," Kalashnikov said. "It will be completely new and decent conditions." The program will be used to aid in the construction of a $10 billion dollar railroad modernization project intended to ramp up coal exports to Asia.
The population of Russia is about 144 million people; around 483,000, or 0.0035%, are currently incarcerated, and slightly less than half of those people in incarceration will be "eligible" for this forced labor program. That's shameful, and inhumane, and still only half the rate of US incarceration.
It's Not a Gulag, Russia Says of Plan to Put Prisoners to Work [Aine Quinn / Bloomberg]
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