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Aaron Benyamin Retish
Wayne State University (Detroit, MI 48201-1347)
Russia Behind Bars: A History of Prisoners of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, 1863-1932

Research and writing leading to publication of a book on the history of prisons in Russia and the Soviet Union from 1863-1932.

“Russia Behind Bars” uncovers the experiences of prisoners in local prisons of tsarist Russia and the early Soviet Union. It shows how prisoners lived their lives both in and out of the prison regimen. It also examines how penal reforms that aimed to soften punishment and rehabilitate prisoners shaped prisoners’ experience and how lack of resources and state and prison officials’ visions of prisoners as recidivist criminals undercut these reforms, making punishment harsher. The study goes from the birth of Russia’s modern penitentiary system and follows reforms through the rise of the Soviet state in 1917 and ends with the imposition of a harsh, punitive penal system under Stalin. “Russia Behind Bars” emphasizes the importance of prisons as symbols of state power located in urban areas and as important alternatives to exile to the peripheries. I argue that to understand the modern Russian penitentiary system, we need also to account for convicts’ experiences in prisons close to home.

Project fields:
Legal History; Russian History; Urban Studies

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2019 – 7/31/2019