Does ‘Savchenko’s law’ really free murderers and rapists?

Oleksandr Bukalov

A series of alarming publications about the implementation of the so-called "Savchenko’s law" has appeared in recent weeks. Almost every cites staggering data about the number of people who allegedly could be released and is released under this law.

Attention is focused on the number of murderers, rapists and robbers who will get out of jail. The emotional component of almost all messages leaves no room for a normal rational component, turning information about the law for citizens in blatant manipulation and even spread of panic.

Here are the examples of messages.

There is such an allegation: "The State Penitentiary Service calculated that about 50,000 prisoners may get out of prison under the famous ‘Savchenko’s law’ while nearly 1,000 criminals have already been released!"

And another one: "As spokesperson for the State Penitentiary Service Kateryna Denysiuk told Segodnya newspaper, according to their data, 48,835 prisoners come within the law [there are about 80,000 inmates in Ukraine on the whole]. That is, more than half of all the prisoners of the country may be freed!"

Now it is necessary to find out how many people really come within the provisions of the law and how many are actually freed and in what terms?

Since almost all convicts begin their staying imprisoned from a remand prison, while the investigation is being conducted and the trial is going on, and are transferred to serve their sentence in a colony only after the verdict is passed, of course almost all people serving sentence have a certain period of stay in a remand prison. It’s not a surprise they all come within the law.

What danger lies in the fact that 48,000 out of 52,000 convicts come within the law? What is wrong with this fact? Yes, they come. Their days of stay will be recalculated according to the rule: one day in a remand prison equals two days in a colony. If a person has spent two months in a remand prison, he or she will be added two months to the already served term. If a person has spent six months, six months will be added. A quite insignificant part of prisoners stayed in a remand prison for a year or more. They will be added an appropriate number of days.

They will not be "released immediately", just a certain number of days will be added to their served term. Will “more than half of all the prisoners of the country!” be released, as claimed by the author of the fearful articles? Will about 50,000 prisoners be freed?

Yes. They will be freed. Not half, but all of them. However, it will happen not at the same time and not now but sooner or later as all convicts (except for life-sentenced) have a punishment for a specified period.

Some of those, whose term will be recalculated according to the “Savchenko’s law”, will be released in a month, someone - in two years, while others - in 10-12 years. Why will they be freed? Because of the “Savchenko’s law”? In no case!

And here we have another blatantly false statement that nearly 50,000 prisoners will be freed specifically due to “famous Savchenko’s law.”

No. They will be freed because their term of imprisonment, determined by a court, will end. However, the authors of scary articles try to form an idea that the criminals would not be released if there was no “Savchenko’s law”. And here you have, the law was passed and the criminals are released on its basis.

I'm not talking about the correctness of the cited data about the number of prisoners - "[there are about 80,000 inmates in Ukraine on the whole]." In fact, slightly over 69,000 people are imprisoned in Ukraine now. These data are posted at the website of the penitentiary service, they can be easily found and checked. Another 11,000 inmates are added by the author due to usual dishonesty and lack of professionalism. Readers should decide whether they may trust the claims of such a "professional."

Another statement says: "We should be afraid of serious criminals, who may be freed, i.e. those who committed robbery or brigandage since a person, as a rule, does not get better in prison, expert on rights of inmates and member of the Community Council at the State Penitentiary Service Tetiana Yablonska told us in a commentary."

It should be assumed that the criminals, freed precisely under the “Savchenko’s law” pose a threat. Is it really so?

According to the data of the State Penitentiary Service, 21,206 persons were released from the Ukrainian prisons in 2015 (including 10,336 released on parole) when the "Savchenko’s law" had not been still passed. In 2014, 42,977 people were released. So, having no "Savchenko’s law", the State Penitentiary Service freed 1,767 offenders every month last year. Moreover, almost half (860 people) were released early, not upon completion of the term. In 2014, twice as many prisoners were released. However, nobody was particularly concerned about that fact.

And now the very head of the agency, who should know the statistics better than anyone, scares: "Now we free more than 1,000 murderers according to this law." But whom did his subordinates free during 2015? Not criminals? No robbers? Not murderers?

We should refer to the statistics of the penitentiary service. Here we have types of crimes 53,000 persons were sentenced to imprisonment for as of January 1, 2016:

  • 10,600 persons convicted of murder (14,200 persons last year);
  • 4,700 persons (7,400 persons) - of causing grievous bodily harm;
  • 13,500 persons (15,200 persons) - of robbery, brigandage and blackmail;
  • 1,400 persons (2,100 persons) - of rape;

According to the cited data, the number of people convicted of murder is 20%, i.e. every fifth.

Why is it surprising when the head of the agency says: "And now I will tell you the following figure: every sixth who will be freed from among 6,000 convicts was convicted for murder."

The impression is that the murders are freed because of "Savchenko’s law." Mr. Palahniuk does not add that the agency released more than 5,000 persons convicted of murder in 2015. This is confirmed by the data as their number in prisons decreased by 3,600 over the year (from 14,200 down to 10,600). We should add to this decrease the newly convicted people, whose number in 2015 was no less than 1,500 “murders.” Besides, more than 3,000 people convicted of causing intentional grievous injuries, nearly a thousand rapists and several thousand robbers were freed from prisons.

Why didn’t anybody ring the alarm because of this eloquent statistics? Against the background of this routine, everything which is done according to the "Savchenko’s law" does not look like a sort of accident or force majeure.

So what is the effect of implementation of "Savchenko’s law"?

It lies in the fact that the number of convicted persons who are released will slightly increase for a certain period - two to three months. Not two- or three-fold. Perhaps, by 20% or 40%. The head of the penitentiary service cites the following data in mid-February: "1,605 people have been released as of today."

This number is not larger than the monthly "quota" in 2015.

Moreover, these people should have stayed in prisons just a couple of months of their term, i.e. the time they had spent in a remand prison. If there was no "Savchenko’s law", they would be freed in May or July instead of February. That’s all.

It is important to emphasize that prior to this law the penitentiary service released on parole half of the convicts in 2015 - more than 10,000!

Nevertheless, judge Zvarych and Doctor "Pi" will be inevitable released. The only thing is that they will be released earlier due to "Savchenko’s law." It’s not correct to say that they would be jailed for ever if the law was not passed. It’s not correct to distort the facts.

Should we be afraid of release of serious criminals, as claimed by expert on rights of inmates and member of the Community Council at the State Penitentiary Service Tetiana Yablonska?

We should be afraid of the criminals released under the "Savchenko’s law" a little bit earlier that the term determined by the court no more than over 20,000 criminals who were released by the penitentiary service in 2015 without the help of this law.

It is necessary to comment on another statement of head of the State Penitentiary Service Volodymyr Palahniuk concerning those who will be freed now, within the validity period of the "Savchenko’s law":

"I think that this law will be costly to the state as it must be confessed that at least 60% of the released will soon return back to jail. However, their actions will entail new innocent victims."

By this statement, the state official recognizes that the correctional work in the prisons, which he heads and which he gets salary for, is extremely poor and about 60% not "corrected" criminals are freed.

He also states that the released persons should not rely on the state support as the state actually does nothing for their re-socialization and does not provide at least a minimal support: they have nowhere to sleep, nowhere to work with the assistance of the state, the state does not provide them with any financial support in the first weeks after release.

Instead, the state expects them not to return to the path of committing crimes in such circumstances. And if they do commit crimes, it punishes them. Thus, the state punishes these released people for its irresponsibility with respect to release.

Perhaps some of them would commit new crimes in any case, even if the state gave them shelter, work and support. But, I'm sure, their number would be little.

Many of 60%, mentioned by Palahniuk, are ready to live a law-abiding life. But they need the support which is not provided by the state. The state rebukes that "at least 60% of the released will soon return back to jail. However, their actions will entail new innocent victims." These victims, according to the head of the Service, are on criminals’ conscience only. While the contribution of the state to unfavorable developments and sad fates of the released is actually great. However, such indifference of the state is not used to scare people for some reason.

Why should we believe officials that security in society depends primarily on the fact that 10-15% of the prisoners will be released few months earlier? Where is the effect of the corrective labor at correctional institutions, of the state’s assistance to the released persons? These are rhetorical questions.

We can therefore say that the danger for the society of release under the "Savchenko’s law" is much less than the danger of the actions of state officials, who for years do nothing to solve the problems of people who have gone wrong or see committing crimes – stealing and robbing - as the only way to exist.

To hide this inaction and indifference of the state, they hurry to make convicts and the MPs who voted for the “Savchenko’s law” guilty for the crime problems. To understand and see this, you should look through the statistics, to count and reflect a bit.

Another sad conclusion: unfortunately, the journalists are often too lazy to check the data cited by the experts whereas it is not so difficult to do.

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