SHKAREVSKY D.N. The Penitentiary Justice of the USSR: Peculiarities of Functioning in 1944–1956


Denis N. Shkarevsky

Candidate of Sciences (History), Associate Professor,

Department of Theory and History of State and Law, Surgut State University,

Prosp. Lenina, 1, 628403 Surgut, Russian Federation

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Abstract. Introduction. The activities of the penitentiary justice bodies in the USSR remain practically unexplored. Meanwhile, they were an important element of the mechanism of the Soviet state. The purpose of this article is to highlight the stages and determine the model of functioning of the penitentiary justice bodies.

Methods and materials. The source base included unpublished documents stored in the funds of the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Supreme Court of the USSR and the State Archives of the Russian Federation. The fund of the Penitentiary Court of Chelyabinsk region, which is stored in the United State Archives of Chelyabinsk region, was also used in the study. When writing the article, the following methods were used: historical-genetic, archivalheuristic, source study, method of classification, method of historical description.

Analysis. During 1946–1956 more than 200,000 people have been convicted by the penitentiary courts. The bulk of the cases (60%) were: cases of escape, refusal to work and self-harm, theft of state and public property, banditry, theft of personal property, hooliganism, robbery and plunder, and premeditated murder. The remaining 40% of cases were formed by the socalled “other” crimes. These included cases of counter-revolutionary crimes, crimes of security officers (military crimes), labor crimes, etc. During 1944–1956 among those convicted by penitentiary courts, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of prison staff and a systematic increase in the proportion of prisoners. Until the early 1950s formal performance indicators of penitentiary courts were lower than those of the people’s, regional, line courts and military tribunals. Penitentiary justice was dependent on the leadership of the penitentiary institutions. When considering cases, “simplification” was allowed: cases were considered in batches, in absentia.

Results. Three stages of activity of bodies of penitentiary justice are highlighted: 1945–1947; 1948–1950; 1951–1954/1956. The model of activity of the penitentiary justice can be defined as “campanian justice”.

Key words: soviet justice, special justice, penitentiary justice, penitentiary courts, crime in penitentiary institutions.

Citation. Shkarevsky D.N. The Penitentiary Justice of the USSR: Peculiarities of Functioning in 1944–1956. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2022, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 46-56. (in Russian). DOI:

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The Penitentiary Justice of the USSR: Peculiarities of Functioning in 1944–1956 by Shkarevsky D.N. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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