Russia: Jails 'consider jokes' to cut inmate stress

A guard standing outside a Russian prison Image copyright AFP
Image caption Inmates might not ordinarily have much to laugh about in Russia's prisons

The harsh conditions in Russian jails are no laughing matter, but the Justice Ministry thinks humour could help prisoners cope with their time inside, it seems.

A proposal by the ministry's penal department says the main task facing prison staff is managing stress among inmates, and that "deploying irony and jokes" could help, the Izvestia newspaper reports. One of the department's researchers says stress-busting using humour shouldn't be considered a surprising suggestion, as prisoners aren't usually in a happy frame of mind. "You can't base relations on fear and submission alone," Vladislav Grib tells the paper, adding that conventional means of relaxation like massage and meditation are "not really practical in a prison environment".

While the idea is still only at the proposal stage, some prison psychologists have welcomed it. "Inmates need to know that they are people too. It's important not to undermine their human dignity," Mikhail Debolsky tells the paper. "Jokes and irony can help them understand things at a deeper level." But not everyone's convinced that humour is feasible in prison conditions, and some note that off-colour jokes sometimes lead to fights inside. One long-serving prison educator, who wants to remain anonymous, greets the idea with his own joke. "Imagine our report," he says. "In the last quarter we joked 150 times, laughed 149 times, and on one occasion the prisoners didn't appreciate the humour and burned the jail down. NB - we need to modernise our joke inventory."

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