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Russian prison population sees largest drop in more than a decade as Wagner PMC recruits convicts en masse
From the start of September to the start of November, Russia’s prison population had its largest decrease since at least 2010, according to the independent Russian news outlet Mediazona.
Records from Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service indicate that Russian prisons contained a total of almost 349,000 people at the start of August. By September, that number had decreased by about 1,000 — a change consistent with a years-long trend of the number of prisoners gradually decreasing. Over the two months that followed, however, the prison population declined by more than 23,000, reaching 338,000 by early October and 325,000 by early November.
According to past prison population data analyzed by Mediazona, the country’s prison population hasn’t declined so dramatically since at least 2010. Even in 2015, when thousands of prisoners were granted amnesty to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and in 2020, when Russian judges began issuing lighter sentences amid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prison population only decreased by 15,000 and 17,000, respectively.
Mediazona noted that while the Russian government has not announced amnesty or passed any legislation that could be expected to decrease the country’s prison population, oligarch and Wagner PMC founder Evgeny Prigozhin has been recruiting prisoners to fight in the war in Ukraine, offering to grant them freedom in exchange for their service, since at least July 2022.
According to estimates by Russia Behind Bars founder Olga Romanova, as of the end of October, the number of prisoners who had been recruited by the Wagner Group exceeded 20,000, while by mid-November, the total number exceeded 30,000.
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