Religious Facilities Growing in Number in Russian Prisons and Camps

October 5, 2014
Russian Orthodox priests laying the stones for a new church in Medical Correction Facility No. 19 in Mordovia in 2012.

Staunton, October 3 – There are now more than 1200 religious facilities in the Russian penal system, and the Russian government today announced plans for legislation that would regularize their presence rather than allow the continuation of the current situation in which some officials welcome such facilities while others are opposed.

Bishop Irinarkh of Krasnogorsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s prison service department said October 3 that there are now 529 Orthodox churches, 51 Muslim mosques, nine Buddhist dungans, three Protestant churches, and one synagogue, along with more than 400 Orthodox, 228 Muslim and one Baptist prayer rooms in the penal system.

The bishop added that there are “more than 2.5 million” copies of Orthodox religious materials available to prisoners, that the presence of religious facilities reduces violations of the rules by 10 to 15 percent, and that those who identify as Russian Orthodox now form “about 80 percent” of the prison population, just slightly more than their share in the population.

The growth in the number of such facilities and religious activities inside prison walls has led the Russian government to come up with draft legislation that would regularize the system and would also define the rules under which prisoners who seek access to religious leaders would be allowed to gain it.