No data source comparable to Memorial's exists for the period after 1991. The Russian government, of course, collects information about prisoner numbers, but much of this is withheld from the public domain. The location penal institutions is available on the official prison service website www.fsin.su. In the last few years the regional penal authorities (UFSINs and GUFSINs) have developed websites which can contain data relating to the number of prisoners held in specific colonies and remand prisons and/or the capacity of colonies. The maps that we include showing the number of prisoners and rates of imprisonment use these data. We have checked official numbers against informal sources available on the web, such as sites developed by prisoners’ relatives and NGOs. These can contain information about the number of prisoners in specific colonies. Necessarily, however, we must caution against placing too much faith in the accuracy of the data we have used to construct the maps relating to the penal population in series 4.

Just as the Soviet period had specific characteristics, the contemporary Russian penal system has a categorisation of institution types that affects the ways in which it can be mapped.

Russian correctional institutions are divided into different categories:

  • Remand Colonies (SIZO – sledstvennyi isolator) - Institutions for persons awaiting trial.

  • Educational Juvenile Correctional Colonies (VK – vospitatel'naya koloniya) for boys and girls aged 14-18.

  • Correctional Colonies for Adult Offenders (IK – ispravital'naya koloniya) - An IK is a secure isolated institution. Internally the colonies are divided into several zones: work zone, residential zone, punishment, hospital, educational, administrative etc. Men and women are imprisoned in separate IKs. There are three types of IK:

    • General (Obshchii) regime (minimum security) for all men (other than those listed below), and all women

    • Strict (Osobii) regime (medium to maximum security), for first-time male offenders convicted of particularly grave crimes, repeat male offenders, who have previously been sentenced to imprisonment

    • Special (Strogii) regime (maximum security), for men convicted of particularly dangerous repeat crimes, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment

  • Isolation colonies for adults with infectious diseases (LIU – lechebnoe ispravitelnoe uchrezhdenie)

  • Colony-Settlements (KP – koloniya poseleniya) - These are often called 'open prisons'. They are located in or close to civilian settlements, but the majority are in very remote parts of Russia. Prisoners generally live in barracks but work outside of the colony.

  • 'Prisons' - The term 'prison' (tyurma) describes Russia's strictest form of punishment for only 4-5% of Russian prisoners. Residential blocks are more similar to cellular accommodation than barracks, and there are severe restrictions on visiting, communication, and exercise.

  • Hospital Colonies (LPU – lechebnoe profilakticheskoe uchrezhdenie) - For inmates requiring serious medical treatment during incarceration.

  • Correctional Centres (ITs – Ispravitel’nye Tsentry) – These are a new type of facility introduced in the last few years that can best be equated with open-prisons in other jurisdictions. 

In the past five years the numbers of people given custodial sentences by the courts has declined dramatically and by 2021 the total prison population of both convicted prisoners and prisoners on remand has fallen from the highs of the late 1990s when there were more than one million prisoners in Russia to under half a million in 2021. The decline has accelerated in the past five year and has been accompanied by a programme of colony closures and conversions. We are currently updating our maps to reflect the changes. The population maps on the site are constructed on the basis of calculation we made in 2013.   At that time we developed proxies for regional prisoner populations, by calculating the average size of each type of institution using data on maximum prison capacity which is publicly available, and multiplying these by the number of institutions in the region. This approach, was the only means to estimate regional prisoner populations in Russia It provides an approximate base from which to make diachronic comparisons that catch the affect of the changes.