Islam and Community Building in Russian Prisons: Case Study of Uzbek Transnational Prisoners in Russian Penal Institutions

ACGIS Guest Lecture with Rustam Urinboyev

Wednesday, October 18, 2023 1:30 PM EDT
Horizon Hall, 3rd Floor Conference Room #3225

Islam and Community Building in Russian Prisons: Case Study of Uzbek Transnational Prisoners in Russian Penal Institutions

Russia has become one of the main migration hubs globally following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The vast majority of migrant workers come to Russia from Central Asian countries. These migratory processes led to a drastic increase in the number of Central Asian transnational prisoners in Russia’s penal institutions. Given the arbitrary law enforcement and precarities and uncertainties stemming from shadow economy employment, a considerable number of Central migrants end up in Russian prisons. However, despite the large presence of Central Asian transnational prisoners in Russian prisons, we know relatively little about how these processes have affected the power geometry within prisons, changing the relationship between the prison administration and prisoners, as well as between Russian traditional prison subcultures and transnational Muslim prisoners. With these considerations in mind, my presentation will discuss how the arrival of a large number of Central Asian Muslim prisoners shapes the traditional hierarchies and power relations in Russian penal institutions.

I argue that the large-scale migratory processes have transformed Russian penal institutions into a legally plural environment where it is possible to glean the patterns of the coexistence and clash between various formal rules and informal sub-cultures: (a) colony regime, that is official regulations and everyday management practices at the institutional level, (b) traditional prison sub-culture, so-called the thieves' law, (c) Muslim sub-culture based on Sharia law, and (d) sub-cultures based on ethnic solidarity norms. In doing so, this article challenges the widely held view among Russian criminologists and Western historians that penal institutions in Russia have traditionally been ethnically- (racially) and religiously- blind. The presentation will be based on the author’s extended ethnographic fieldwork in Moscow, Russia, and Fergana, Uzbekistan, conducted between January 2014 and September 2020. 

Rustam Urinboyev is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology of Law. He is an interdisciplinary socio-legal scholar studying migration, corruption, governance and penal institutions in the context of Russia, Central Asia and Turkey. His research interests and publications cover diverse fields and topics, such as corruption and informality, socio-legal approaches to migration, religious and ethnic identities in Russian prisons, Islamic public administration, law and society in Central Asia, migration and shadow economy, and Russian and Post-Soviet Studies. He is the author of the book Migration and Hybrid Political Regimes: Navigating the Legal Landscape in Russia (2020), published by the University of California Press.

Add this event to your calendar