Russia introduced Punishment Regulations in 1864 to distinguish between adult and youth offenders. The Regulations exempted youths under age 10 from criminal culpability and set the maximum length of youth custody at half the amount that an adult would receive for committing the same offense. The Regulations prohibited youth custody in prisons but allowed courts to place youth offenders in corrective shelters (Shestakov and Shestakova 1997). Corrective shelters were similar to prisons in construction and purpose and were essentially juvenile prisons with a rehabilitative title.
The Criminal Code of 1903 changed the destination for youth offenders. It instructed judges to send serious male youth offenders between age 14 and 17 to educational-corrective institutions. Female youth offenders were sent to nunneries (Shestakov and Shestakova 1997). The Criminal Code of 1961 reduced punishments for several youth offenses and shifted from a retributive focus to one of education and re-socialization. The 1961 Code established alternative sanctions including apologies, warnings, compensation, and placement under parental supervision (Shestakov and Shestakova 1997).
The age of criminal responsibility in Russia currently is 14 for serious offenses and 16 for minor offenses. Judges have considerable discretion in sentencing youth offenders. However, there are minimal alternatives to custody available. The most common sentences for youth offenders are suspended sentences and secure custody. The problem with suspended sentences is that without community-based social services for rehabilitation, youths on suspended sentence often violate their conditions and end up in custody (McAuley 2010).
Judges issue suspended sentences for more than half and secure custody for more than one-fourth of convicted youths (McAuley 2010). Custodial sentences can be lengthy. Judges ordered sentences lasting between two and five years in more than 65 percent of custodial sentences (McAuley 2010). The youth custodial population remained relatively stable from the early 1990s to 2005. There were approximately 25,000 youths age 14 to 17 sentenced to custody in both 1993 and in 2005, with minor fluctuations in the intervening years (McAuley 2010).
There are several placement facilities for youth offenders sentenced to custody. Russian youth may serve custodial sentences in an educational colony, which is a secure and often remote facility far from home, a Secure Training Center, or a Young Offender Institution. Private companies operate Secure Training Centers and the Prison Department oversees Young Offender Institutions. Russia’s strict criminal code and a lack of alternative and community sanctions have made secure custody a common outcome for youth offenders (McAuley 2010).
Alternatives to custody do exist in Russian youth justice, but the government does not adequately fund them and has not passed legislation to require judges to issue such sanctions. In 2004, judges started to use community service orders and fines as alternative punishments for youth offenders, but these sanctions only reduced the use of suspended sentences and did not decrease the number of youth custodial placements (McAuley 2010).
Reforms have addressed youth custody reductions, but change has occurred only at the local level. Four Russian cities started a project in 1999 that connected youth delinquents with social workers acting as court aides. The social workers assist youth offenders before and after trials. The project reduced youth custody and offender recidivism. National reforms addressing youth custody have been relatively non-existent in Russia.