Russia | Kasakhstan

Project team «Woman. Prison. Society» presents
About the project
The Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) confirms that there are 474 children up to 3 years old in Russian penitentiaries (the data for 01/04/2019). In our previous project named «Prohibition on breastfeeding» we told about women, who became mothers in detention sites. In this project we tell about injuries among children in isolators, about sexual violence and infant mortality in penitentiaries of Russia and Kazakhstan. According to experts, the executive systems of both countries are very similar. They look like twins born by the same parent — GULAG (Main Administration of Camps). We tell different stories which occurred in these countries to compare and reveal trends.

Last summer we met Yana for interviewing. It was near the Botkin infectious disease hospital, where she was admitted for treatment… Yana was 37, she had got two daughters: the eldest daughter was at the orphanage, the younger one was in the social center.
She was delighted with the small gift, fruit and sweets we brought for her. She reserved juice for her daughter. Nastenka, the younger daughter, was born in the detention center in St. Petersburg in June, 2015.

Yana was an «experienced» girl: she had five walkers. She was three times in Sablino (a female colony in the Leningrad region); she sat in Udmurtia for the fourth time; the fifth time she served a sentence in «Arsenalka» (the detention center for women in St. Petersburg — ed.). She was not shy about her convictions, although she thought she «didn't do well». She shared her story about childbirth in places of deprivation of liberty and a tragic event — Yana's daughter was badly burnt in the cell of the remand prison…

«Why do you need it? Sentence, baby...
Let's go to an abortion»

Abortion for 4 month
To the famous detention center number 5, the so-called «Arsenalka» isolator, the only female isolator in St. Petersburg, Yana got pregnant, 23 weeks. The first thing operational staff members did was to begin persuading an abortion.

— When I got to the detention center I was 23 weeks pregnant. I said that I was pregnant. They immediately asked, «What makes you think so? Do you have a medical card as a pregnant?». I said, «Yes, but it is at home». «All of you say so». In short, they brought me a test then, I pee on it, it showed two strips that meant pregnancy. When I was just taken to a transit camera, the «dog lovers» (operative officers; in this case — women employees who search the prisoner upon admission to the detention center – ed.) searched me and began to persuade an abortion. They said, «Why do you need it? Sentence, baby... Let's go to an abortion». They convinced, «Pity the child! You do not need it?!»…

They said, «Why do you need it? Sentence, baby... Let's go to an abortion». They convinced, «Pity the child! You do not need it?!»…
— That is, abortion is a pity for the child?

— For them, yes... But thank God that I was imprisoned, because I stopped taking drugs and my child was not born with an abstinence syndrome... I'm even grateful, because I wouldn't have Nastya if I hadn't been imprisoned. I think so…

Yana was placed into a cell for pregnant women. There were three other prisoners besides her. Women who are expecting a child should be provided with additional food. Yana began receiving it in 2-3 weeks. By the standards of Russian isolators, as the heroine says, it is quickly enough.

— Were you provided antenatal care? We often faced the fact that there wasn't any antecare: no examination by a gynecologist, no ultrasound testing…

— I was examined by a gynecologist. I would like to tell nasty things about «Arsenalka», but in my case they acted like human beings... And the gynecologist and ultrasound — everything was provided there. In general, the atmosphere was normal. I was in the same cell with Bella, Nina and someone else — I don't remember now. There were four of us. There was a woman there who constantly gives birth: she is released — she comes back... She was recently released under the Article 82, she left, gave the child to an orphanage and... returned back. Someone there had four children... She was transferred pregnant...

From Leonid Agafonov's story about visiting pretrial detention center № 5 in St. Petersburg:

«The next was Lena. We were very worried about her. The FPS medicine worked slowly. Daniil was supposed to be born in two months, and it doesn't matter that the woman is under stress in extreme prison conditions. In general, they didn't send the young woman to the hospital on time. Rupture of the amniotic fluids membrane began in the detention center. In the maternity home they had to do caesarean. The baby's weight was 1830 grams… Two days ago he was brought to his mother. Now Daniil is a real «hamster», his weight is already more than 2200 grams».

« A convoy woman looked at my «there». She said, «I am interested...»
— It was time to give birth. Labor pains had began. First, the doctor came. «How long will it last, you think?». I said, «I don't know». She measured the frequency of contractions, called for an ambulance brigade, then I was taken to the 16th (the hospital in Kupchino — ed.).

How did you go there?

— We had been leaving the airlock for a very long time (airlock is the space that separates the prison and the street. It is for pedestrians and cars. First, a car or a person gets into the gateway, then the exit door of a detention center closes, after that documents are checked and vehicles are inspected, and only after all procedures the door or gate to the street may be opened (LINK— ed.). A woman and two men (convoy — ed.) rode by the ambulance with me, the prison car was following behind. I was taken like a dangerous (recidivist — ed.).

— Were you handcuffed at the hospital?

— No. They took me to a special room for us (a separate ward for prison arrivals — ed.). I realized that it was a room for the prisoners, because I heard one escort spoke to the other: «As usual?». Then they pulled something on the window. And, by the way, they brought me there, took pictures and said: «Smile». I didn't have to do it at all. You know what I mean. You're having the labor pains, but they say «smile»... The escorts were watching me, then the midwife asked the escort male to leave the room. The convoy woman looked at my «there» and said: «I'm interested, I have never seen». I'm giving birth, and she is looking, because... she is interested.

As soon as I gave birth, my baby was taken away. I said, «Show». — «Now we are washing her». They told the weight, revealed and took the baby away. She was too little, 1 kg 20 grams... She was put, as I had understood, under the «cap» (into the pressure chamber — ed.). Handcuffs weren't chained until I was giving birth. Then the ice was applied, and I was immediately handcuffed. I was giving birth for two hours, then I went back to the detention center. Approximately in 4-5 hours I was in the isolator, although I was supposed to stay at the maternity hospital. Three days set. Just the convoy doesn't want (to work in shifts — ed.)...

From Leonid Agafonov's memories:

«Again the problem of early separation babies from mothers after childbirth. S. gave birth to a child on the 12th of February 2016 at 12 o'clock in the afternoon and at 8 pm she was already in the cell. The child was left in the hospital. On the eleventh day she was still pumping milk, trying to preserve breast milk for the baby. She felt very nervous, struggled to hold back so as not to burst into tears. For eleven days the administration of detention center №5 never once deigned to report the condition of the child».
«We began to remove the panty hoses from her — the skin directly hung down… Left side, her face all… Oh, it's shocking...»
When did that happened?
In the pretrial detention center a little Yana's daughter received severe burns. The general statistics of child injuries in detention sites is unknown, basically only those cases emerge when a child dies.... How many babies were actually injured in detention centers and colonies — such information is absent.

— You know, I'm just reliving it... The cellmate was boiling water in the kettle, I was feeding the baby. After feeding I removed Nastya from the chair. I turned around and in a second I heard the bang of a kettle and a terrible scream. My child was screaming. I began yelling. And thanks to my cellmate Nastya, a pregnant redheaded tall girl, who was there. She asked, «Why are you yelling?». While I was recovering, she grabbed Nastya, took clothes off a baby, brought her to the bathroom and put her under a stream of cold water. Thank God, there was a diaper on the child.
The girl got serious burns of the body, face, hands. She was taken to intensive care.
Doctors came quickly. They put a bandage on. The ambulance arrived, gave an injection to the child. I was told, «Pack up baby». I collected things and so she was taken to the burn ward.

The girl got serious burns of the body, face, hands. She was taken to intensive care.

— Nastya stayed in the hospital for a very long time, longer than expected. Why did she stay there longer?.. Because our detention center administration didn't provide a vehicle.

— How did the prison officers act in that situation?

— They came over, began to interrogate, took explanations from me, from a cellmate. She repeated all the time, «I didn't do it on purpose, I didn't do it on purpose...». Before this, in the morning, there was a conflict between us. We usually go out of the room, when one child is sleeping, to let him sleep well. But my neighbor did not do that, so we had a conflict with her. And just in that day the situation happened... I don't blame her (now), but that time I was ready to strangle her, tear her up. Employees issued that as an accident.

— Well, try to understand, the administration must do something for the safety of children. For example, lift sockets higher. Any child could reach them.

— Yes. It was later, after my daughter got injured. The time she was discharged from the hospital, «household bulls» (convicts who do facility-related work in prison — ed.) arrived and raised the socket. That is, when the child was scalded, they did not respond...

From Leonid Agafonov's story, written right after meeting with Yana:

«The socket was really half a meter above the table, and the kettle stand was located in the middle of the table. The task for kids to access the kettle was made complicate. It is difficult to blame Nastya's mother. Even though the conditions of detention are the best in the whole north-west of the country, there are only three seats for 8-12 mothers with children in the kitchen. Arithmetic is simple. They have to queue or have meal in the rooms. Blessing there is an electric stove there and it is possible to warm food.

Wounds were serious. A visiting pediatrician regularly called up to the hospital where the child was treated. The baby got better, but her face, arm, flank is burnt with boiling water. It seems, the St. Petersburg prison's imprint on her body will forever remain».
You can't go for a walk, then you can't return back
— In the cold season, when you are ready for a walk and have dressed the child, she is sweating all over. We had a landline and could call the duty officer, asking: «Take out for a walk». Sometimes happened they answered, «Someone had already entered the territory, wait». And we used to wait for forty minutes or an hour, became hysterical, undressed children, «That's all, a walk is over!». Either you get out or you fucking return. It is practiced there: first you can't go out, and then can't return back.

— Was there a playground in the detention cite: swings, carousels?

— Yes, a playground for children was there: a hill, a pipe... I remember in 2005 there was no playground at all...

— What about diapers?

— That's when Sashunya (Alexandra is the heroine of the first part of the project about prison's childbirth «Prohibition on breastfeeding» was released, some devastation began. «Write a statement», they told us when the diapers ended. We had written a statement, but we were not given...
«Give it to her!»... 850 rubles for mother and child
— And where did you go then?

— I met a friend, she came to meet me with my elder daughter. In fact, my little child and I had to go to Kronstadt to a rehabilitation crisis center, they had already been waiting for us there. Instead, I had stayed at my friend's place for five days. Then my sister came and took me home.

— When I am without drugs, I am real, and when drugs start appearing in my life, I don't need anything…

— I see... We think that it is necessary to rehabilitate those who want to get rid of drug addiction, but no one is doing that.

P.S. We wanted to meet with Yana again, but we had known, that our subject was accused of theft. She didn't appear to the court. Her whereabouts is unknown. Her social network status: «My daughters are the most important and valuable in my life!»...

Leonid Agafonov:

«Yana's story is typical for the Russian penal system. Such stories are not simply many — they are the majority! If prisoners are not taken or rehabilitated after detention sites, a risk they will fall back is very high. That is especially applied to prisoners who take drugs. Even they are provided with food and shelter, the probability they will be in prison again remains. Russia is not Norway, it's normal to dram any person through the mud in Russia (read more about the Norwegian system of ex-prisoners re-socialization and rehabilitation HERE)».
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Why children get injuries in remand prisons?
prison expert
Leonid Agafonov
— In St. Petersburg in the detention cite's kitchen the child received serious face, hands and body burns. The first thing officers of the detention site began to investigate whether the injury was arranged by the prisoners intentionally instead of finding out the real reason. After that, they raised the outlet. For two weeks there was no light in the shower and toilet. It could cause the other injury. How to wash the child in a dark room? There was a case: the kid got a head injury while transferring from the colony — he fell from an iron shkonar (bed — ed.). The question is why a woman with a child was put into a prison's vehicle where a child could hit his head?

There is no position of supervisory personnel for monitoring children in the detention facility. Women are obliged to take their babies with them. Since mothers are transported in usual autozak (a vehicle for transporting prisoners — ed.), it can be risky for the health of a child. After numerous complaints, it was forbidden to transport babies in autozaks, but they haven't been provided by safe conditions. Moms are forced to write a power of attorney to cellmates. This is nonsense. Should a child be in a cell with an alien woman?

Cases of the children deaths in the penitentiary system become known, meanwhile there is no statistics on injuries at all. This is simply explained: children are not convicted and they are not registered. As a result, most of injuries are concealed.

Identifying such situations is a question for independent observers, because penitentiary system will not «dig» into itself. It is necessary to keep methodical monitoring of this group (pregnant, women with small children). It includes visits at least once a week for monitoring and tracking health and conditions (water, heat, food, diapers, walks). For this observers must be trained and motivated.

These issues exist, but no one pays attention to them. As long as there are no deaths, everyone can get away with it.

— How to identify violations? What members of the Public Oversight Comission can do?
— The observer must identify if there are pregnant, women recently gave birth, women with children under 3 years who are free (this is another vulnerable group: children are taken away from arrested women and placed in an orphanage without women consent. By law, women should stay together with babies). We have to start working with women who are waiting for a child in custody, to track the development of pregnancy and accompany the prisoner further (nutrition, childbirth, breastfeeding, etc..

In the detention site I would recommend to conduct a survey of women with children and pregnant women, to create a template for questionnaires with basic parameters and with phone numbers of relatives, in order to establish supportive links. It's necessary to track women with diseases (mother's and child's RH factors, HIV, hepatitis, etc.).

As I have already said, nowhere is statistics on child injuries. And not all of observers are ready to work with this theme. We have to find out how many children are in hospitals and what for. Mommies, who are waiting for their babies from hospitals, can be found in ordinary cameras. There were cases when a mother was sent to a regular cell after transferring her child to the hospital.

In prison diagnosed «healthy», at large — cerebral palsy
Prison medicine or more precisely its absence does not spare the little prisoners. One of the arrested women, Zhenya, got into the detention site while she was pregnant. She gave birth to a child being imprisoned. In summer 2015 public observer Leonid Agafonov took control of her. During a visit to the detention center he noticed that the baby's head had a tumor and she held her head very badly.

Memories of Leonid Agafonov:

«Little Ulyana hadn't been examined by an oncologist and a neurosurgeon for four months. Her mother submitted for parole, but she had received neither characteristics nor medical certificates of child's health from the administration of detention site №5. She had to withdraw the petition, because trips to the court with the child were exhausting and the sessions were been postponing due to lack of certificates. This is only one episode in the number of «advantages» purchased by women giving birth in prison...

A lot of work was done to arrange doctor's visit for examining an infant! More than four months of endless appeals to different instances, requests to Moscow colleagues for a help. We reached the deputy head of the Medical Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia. It's hard to imagine how tragic that story would end if it were malignant tumor. Fortunately, a surgeon examined Ulyana had found out that the tumor (fibroid) was benign and doesn't threaten the life of the young patient. After release the girl's mother managed to get a more accurate diagnosis: Uliana has cerebral palsy. The diagnosis was eventually made, but precious time, which could be used for the girl's treatment, was lost. This story took place in the second capital, in St. Petersburg, where there is either infrastructure and personnel. To say nothing about the regions... Most of these stories don't spread beyond detention places. As a result, late diagnosis, late treatment, which leads to irreversible damage to a child health.

To change the situation to the best, one should heed the general recommendations for the «system»: it is necessary to reduce the prison population and reduce the number of women with children in prisons, sentence only those who represent social danger. And for this the «GULAG» system must be changed».
member of the Public Oversight Commission
of the Nizhny Novgorod Region
Andrei Bulanov
«Close attention should be paid to the women in detention centers with children. This is due to the fact that there are regulatory requirements.

When I come to the detention cite, first of all I try to see cells for women with children. Cells are equipped with stove, TV, baby cots in accordance with the standards. Last year there were no toys there; there were problems with food which lacked variety; there were problems with diapers, which were given out one diaper per day (it is not a problem now). It's time for a child to eat chicken, but it's not given. Children grow quickly and they need shoes and clothes. If there are no relatives, the question arises where to get things for children. Also, just one of three detention centers I have visited in the Nizhny Novgorod region was equipped with a walking yard.

There is a systemic problem for pretrial detention facilities — women are constantly with their children. The maximum number of women with children in the Nizhny Novgorod isolator is five women and four children. For example, when in a cell there is only one woman with a child, it's a problem for her to go to the shower-room, because there is nobody to look after the child. The convoy leads the prisoner to the shower-room, as there is no shower in the cell. The child should be taken with mother or left alone in the cell, because a caretaker person isn't provided in detention sites».

Case in Nizhny Novgorod colony
Leonid Agafonov, prison expert:

«A woman and her husband were both convicted. The term was not very long. The woman was in the Nizhny Novgorod colony with her child. A year and a half ago the woman's mother phoned me.

The caller told that the baby was hospitalized, the mother remained in the colony, the relatives were not informed about the whereabouts and condition of the baby.

The mother called in a panic: there was no information about her granddaughter, the child was taken unknown where, the baby was only a few months old. The woman worried that the child would be taken away and sent to an orphanage. I recommended to issue a power of attorney for the grandmother to care for the child in the hospital.

Nowadays in some Russian colonies an experiment is being conducted: mothers live with their babies together, but firstly, it's all about an insignificant number of prisoners, and secondly, the prison administration can stop the experiment at any time. For example, if a prisoner doesn't agree to cooperate with the administration».
Moms with children in colonies — two cases of death
Discussing the situation of women prisoners with children, we should remember that in detention centers and colonies the approaches to the maintenance of mothers with children are different, despite the fact that these are parts of the same system. In detention sites the child is with the mother, in colonies, as a rule, children are kept separately from their mothers. Mothers can visit their children (look through our interactive map, which shows colonies with child care homes for in exact regions).
In 2018, two tragic incidents occurred in Russia — children died in orphanages at colonies. In March, a 3-month-old boy died of asphyxiation in the Nizhny Novgorod female colony, he suffocated while feeding (

In November, a 3-month-old child died in an orphanage in the female colony of the Chelyabinsk region. The cause was an acute viral disease ( In total, 8 children were hospitalized from the institution.

The facts were learned only after the information appeared on the website of the investigative committee.

But whether someone will be punished remains a question. Investigation and prosecution of cases of negligence can last very long.

prison expert
Leonid Agafonov
«Two deaths are a lot», expert Leonid Agafonov thinks.
«It turns out 0.4% of the total number of children in the detention sites. If it happened in the clinic, there would be a great scandal, but in this case nobody knows about it or find out too late. Instituted proceedings is a necessary measure, because it's impossible to hide the fact of death.

The FPS claims: the staff is enough. Formally, that's so: in Russia there are 296,000 employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service and ALMOST 500 mothers with children (LINK). But we see two deaths in three months. The main problem, I think, is that the child should be with the mother».

But the FPS believes that the reason lies not in the shortcomings of the penitentiary system. Blame observers who identify violations. We have two unique documents. The first is a response to the message that women, contrary to standards, are taken back to the zone in the first hours after childbirth (a letter from the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, St. Petersburg Directorate, signed by the chief I.V. Potapenko). The second document is a response of the St. Petersburg Healthcare Committee. We propose to look at two these documents that contradict each other, pay attention to the way the FPS is trying to hide the truth and blame observers detecting human rights violations in penal system institutions.
We propose to compare passages of these documents which contradict each other, to pay attention how the FPS is trying to hide the truth and blaming observers for identifying human rights violations in institutions. Read the documents in full.
The FPS provides known to be false information. This is due to the fact that no one is responsible for their actions.
For example, the FPS states that women are discharged from the maternity hospital on the 6th day, and according the response from the Healthcare Committee - in 1-2 days (confirmed by the requests of the women). Moreover, the first day may be implied discharging from the hospital both in 5 hours and in 20. If a woman arrived in the evening and was discharged the next day in the morning, then in the reporting documents it's noted that she left the hospital on the second day. This fact characterizes the general practice.
Intentions and real actions
To change the situation, the participants of the project «Woman. Prison. Society» held an action in support of «prison children» #children in a cell in several cities of Russia. You can hold an action in your city (contact us) or sign a petition to protect children born in prisons.
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We represent specialists who carried out the project expert analysis
Leonid Agafonov
project author "Woman. Prison. Society."
Human Rights activist, former prison observer as part of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission, expert of international organizations, publicist, author of the project "Woman. Prison. Society", author of numerous reports on the situation of women and minors in detention places in Russia, public observers coach.
Andrei Bulanov
Chairman of the Nizhny Novgorod Public Oversight Commission
Human rights activist, protects the rights of persons with disabilities in Russian prisons. Co-author of books on the observance of human rights in places of detention
Heritage of the GULAG - Main Administration of Camps
In Kazakhstan prison officers raped a prisoner. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child.
Authors and partners
Leonid Agafonov, Natalia Donskova
design: Alexey Sergeev, illustrations: Maria Svyatykh, photos: Natalia Donskova, editing and translation: Marina Kvashnina, support in social networks: Natalia Sivokhina
"This material was created with the support of the European Union with the support of OPEN Media Hub", "7 * 7 - horizontal Russia", Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Tak-tak-Tak Human Rights Network, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, "Greenhouse of Social Technologies", Front Line Defenders
Tatiana Dorutina, Tatiana Vinnichenko; employees of the program "Shelter City Tbilisi" Sali Mezurnishvili, Svitlana Valko, Lydmilu Filonovu
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