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European Court of Human Rights Awards Russian Prisoner $20,060 For Overcrowding

by Matt Clarke

On March 29, 2007, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, awarded a Russian prisoner 15,000 Euros ($20,060) in damages for incarcerating him in extremely overcrowded conditions.

On November 26, 2001, Andrey Frolov, a Russian prisoner, filed an application against the Russian Federation pursuant to Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Court alleging he was incarcerated in Kresty Prison in St.
Petersburg, Russia, under conditions that violated Article 3 of the Convention. Article 3 states that "[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment." Specifically, Frolov, 40, alleged that while incarcerated in Kresty Prison for four years he was forced to share with 12 to 14 other prisoners an 8-square-meter (67-square-foot) cell equipped with six bunks.

According to Frolov, "the cells were dimly lit; the ventilation system was blocked; prisoners had to make curtains to separate the lavatory pan from the rest of the cell; all the prisoners in the cells had only six minutes, once a week to shower together--although there were only six shower heads--with no toiletries." Frolov also alleged inadequate bedding material, unsanitary cell conditions, inadequate heating in winter, unwholesome food and inadequate medical treatment.

The Court found that most of the conditions of confinement complaints were disputed by the Russian government. However, they did not dispute the overcrowding, claiming instead that they had no documents to show how many prisoners were in each 8-square-meter cell. The Court held that it did not need to determine the disputed facts to come to a judgment since crowding 12 to 14 people into an 8-square-meter cell with only 0.7 square meters of personal space would automatically create conditions that violated Article 3.

Specifically, the Court stated that "[i]rrespective of the reasons for overcrowding, ... it is incumbent on the respondent Government to organize its penitentiary system in such a way to ensure respect for the dignity of detainees, regardless of financial or logistical difficulties." Thus, the Court found "that the fact that the applicant was obliged to live, sleep and use the toilet in the same cell with so many other inmates for more than four years was itself sufficient to cause distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him."

The conditions Frolov endured are sadly typical of Russian prisons which have a mortality rate 20 times the national average. Although Frolov was incarcerated in 11 different cells during the four years, each was 8 square meters and held 12 to 14 prisoners. Kresty Prison was built to house 3,000 prisoners, but is typically holds 10,000 prisoners. According to official statistics, Russia incarcerates 870,000 prisoners. Russia has paid a total of $480,00 for cases lost in the Court in 2006. The total for all cases lost in the court is 1,237,000 Euros ($1.65 million).

Having found a violation of Article 3, the Court awarded Frolov 15,000 Euros. See: Frolov v. Russia, No. 205/02, ECHR 2007-1. The opinion is on PLN's website.

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