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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prisons Try Reform by Farming

The city prison in Kaliningrad, Russia's enclave on the Baltic Sea, has been carrying out an experiment in reform under a new Interior Ministry policy aimed at liberalizing conditions and working toward prisoners' rehabilitation, rather than concentrating on punishment.

According to Valery Irigov, a correctional department official of the Interior Ministry, 30 inmates of the city prison have enrolled as students at a farming academy.

"The prison signed a contract with the academy that gives inmates an opportunity to take courses in agronomy and farming. Professors will also come to the prison regularly to give lectures and examine students. The deal is sponsored by the city enterprises where prisoners work," he said.

According to Irigov, Kaliningrad's prison is not the first to enjoy the ministry's new policy. Inmates have also begun to study at prisons of the Sverdlovskaya and Kirovskaya regions.

"In the past the law did not prohibit prisoners from studying, but conditions in Soviet penitentiaries prevented them from even thinking about it. Now we want to create conditions that will allow inmates to exercise their right to study," he said.

"Of course the number of people who will use the opportunity is not very large -- perhaps a few hundred in all of Russia. But we must give people this opportunity. This could change the atmosphere in the penitentiary," he added.

Irigov said the only problem the ministry faces is a shortage of funds, which prevents it from extending the experiment to more prisons.

"The universities want money, and the Interior Ministry does not provide for this in its budget. That is why, for example, there is a stalemate in our negotiations with the Moscow State Open University, which is ready to have students from the women's prison in Mozhaisk, in Moscow region," he said.

University spokesman Anatoly Koryachev confirmed that negotiations were under way and that the university was willing to enroll 100 inmates from Mozhaisk prison.

He said the university wanted 350,000 rubles ($109) a year from the Interior Ministry for every student.

"I think we will overcome all the difficulties and sign the agreement. It is time for Russia to become a civilized country," he said.