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Orthodox Church Creates Department to Oversee Prisons

The Russian Orthodox Church has introduced a special clergy department to help improve the notoriously oppressive situation in the country's penitentiaries, Patriarch Kirill said.

Kirill announced Saturday that a special department has been created to oversee the implementation of parishes in each penitentiary, the Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement.

"It often happens that in prison a man who once lost his footing turns into a recidivist, a person who can't imagine living in society," Kirill said.

About 900,000 prisoners are serving time in the country's notoriously overcrowded prisons.

The new department is to be headed by Bishop Krosnogorsky Irinarkh, 58, who was previously in charge of the Perm and Solikamsk episcopates.

Kirill's announcement, which took place at a meeting of the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg, coincided with a decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office to wrap up a criminal case concerning violence at a St. Petersburg prison.

Seven St. Petersburg prison officials were charged with abuse of office in September for violence against two prisoners who attempted to escape, prosecutors said in a statement Friday.

The prosecutors said the two prisoners, who had been moved to a psychiatric hospital within the prison compound after their attempted escape, were subjected to sexual abuse that was filmed by one of the suspects.

If convicted, the officials face up to 10 years in prison.

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