Organized Crime, Prison, and Post-Soviet Societies.

Author:Marangos, John
Position::Book Review
 
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Organized Crime, Prison, and Post-Soviet Societies, by Anton N. Oleinik. Aldershot: Ashgate. 2003. ISBN 0754632512, $99.95. 307 pages.

It is widely known that the transition process, especially in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union republics, has been associated with a rise in organized crime. The emergence of the "Red Mafia," as it has been named by Western observers and the national and international media, has developed into an obstacle for the consolidation of democracy and the market in transition economies. Anton Olenik uses an innovative methodology by examining prison as a means to the understanding of organized crime and, through it, providing an understanding of the problems that have surfaced with the transition in post-Soviet societies. The common perception is that prison is a product of society, but Oleinik with his novel approach prefers to treat prison as a reflection, a mirror of society. The methodological approach reverses the causation, making the starting point prison and organized crime, and arriving at societal norms. Hence, prison is viewed as an institution of the societal structure.

Alain Touraine, in the foreword of the book, provides us with a concept of development: "Development is not the victory of the future over the past, but the capacity of the past to integrate the future" (p. xv). This concept of development contradicts the transition experience. The orthodox model of transition imposed by the IMF and World Bank, mainly in the form of shock therapy, involves the destruction of the institutional foundation of society as a means of eliminating any obstacles to the "natural" development of the market. Astonishingly, the introduction of market relations in the form of the orthodox model of transition has resulted in the destruction of the informal norms in post-Soviet prisons as well. As the introduction of the market "privatized" post-Soviet societies, it also "privatized" prison society. The prison walls were not able to prohibit the entry of a market mentality among the inmates. The new arrivals ("margarines") transmitted the market values of the post-Soviet societies into the penal world, and inmates were unable to resist. The following statements were quite common among the inmates interviewed: "You can buy anything, it's only the price that counts. Now everything comes down to money whereas before there were ideas like honesty, the inmates' conscience, understand? Everyone is judged by his usefulness...

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