Russian Representatives from Civil Society and Prison-Oversight Commissions Conduct a US Study Tour

June 2012

From April 23–26, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) brought a group of 10 representatives from Russian civil society and human rights organizations, as well as federal prison-oversight commissions to the U.S. on a study tour focusing on conditions of confinement. The third in a series, the U.S. Agency for International Development-supported tour allowed the participants from Moscow, Kazan and Krasnoyarsk to meet with their American counterparts and to share ideas on strategies to improve conditions of confinement.

During their tour, the Russian participants visited the Fairfax Adult Detention Center in Virginia, toured its facilities and had a question-and-answer session with the sheriff and her staff.

During their tour, the Russian participants visited the Fairfax Adult Detention Center in Virginia, toured its facilities and had a question-and-answer session with the sheriff and her staff. 

While in the U.S., the Russian team met with more than 20 representatives from several groups that work to reform the American detention system, including the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Prison Project, The Wright Institute, VERA Institute, Correctional Association of New York, Just Detention International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. They also met with representatives from the departments of justice and state, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg. Discussions addressed several issues, including monitoring conditions in detention and prison facilities, detainees’ access to legal counsel, alternatives to incarceration, effective policy-advocacy techniques and protecting the needs of vulnerable populations, such as juveniles, immigrants and the disabled.

The Russian participants also visited the Fairfax Adult Detention Center, toured its facilities and had a question-and-answer session with the sheriff and her staff. The Russian team also sat in on hearings at the District of Columbia Superior Court and discussed the special mental health and drug courts with a judge. The Russian visitors and their American hosts said that they found striking similarities in the need for reforms in their respective detention systems, and discussed ways in which both systems can benefit from mutual cooperation on issues such as pre-trial detention and provision of mental health and drug treatment services to inmates.

Following their discussions, the Russian and American participants recommended the creation of a protocol to the convention against torture and a national preventive mechanism against torture, as well as the development of public oversight bodies. ABA ROLI has created a website (www.prisonreform.ru) to provide Russian and American civil society organizations a forum for continued dialogue. The recommendations will be posted on the website and shared with members of the Russian Duma and the U.S. Congress to help further national discussions about confinement conditions.

To learn more about our work in Russia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org

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