May 2, 2022

Image: Proxima Studios, via Shutterstock.

Faced with a brain drain of smart people fleeing the country following its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation is floating a new strategy to address a worsening shortage of qualified information technology experts: Forcing tech-savvy people within the nation’s prison population to perform low-cost IT work for domestic companies.

Multiple Russian news outlets published stories on April 27 saying the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service had announced a plan to recruit IT specialists from Russian prisons to work remotely for domestic commercial companies.

Russians sentenced to forced labor will serve out their time at one of many correctional centers across dozens of Russian regions, usually at the center that is closest to their hometown. Alexander Khabarov, deputy head of Russia’s penitentiary service, said his agency had received proposals from businessmen in different regions to involve IT specialists serving sentences in correctional centers to work remotely for commercial companies.

Khabarov told Russian media outlets that under the proposal people with IT skills at these facilities would labor only in IT-related roles, but would not be limited to working with companies in their own region.

“We are approached with this initiative in a number of territories, in a number of subjects by entrepreneurs who work in this area,” Khabarov told Russian state media organization TASS. “We are only at the initial stage. If this is in demand, and this is most likely in demand, we think that we will not force specialists in this field to work in some other industries.”

According to Russian media site, since March 21 nearly 95,000 vacancies in IT have remained unfilled in Russia. Lenta says the number unfilled job slots actually shrank 25 percent from the previous month, officially because “many Russian companies are currently reviewing their plans and budgets, and some projects have been postponed.” The story fails to even mention the recent economic sanctions that are currently affecting many Russian companies thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) estimated recently that between 70,000 and 100,000 people will leave Russia as part of the second wave of emigration of IT specialists from Russia. “The study also notes that the number of IT people who want to leave Russia is growing. Experts consider the USA, Germany, Georgia, Cyprus and Canada to be the most attractive countries for moving,” Lenta reported of the RAEC survey.

It’s not clear how many “IT specialists” are currently serving prison time in Russia, or precisely what that might mean in terms of an inmate’s IT skills and knowledge. According to the BBC, about half of the world’s prison population is held in the United States, Russia or China. The BBC says Russia currently houses nearly 875,000 inmates, or about 615 inmates for every 100,000 citizens. The United States has an even higher incarceration rate (737/100,000), but also a far larger total prison population of nearly 2.2 million.

Sergei Boyarsky, deputy chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, said the idea was worth pursuing if indeed there are a significant number of IT specialists who are already incarcerated in Russia.

“I know that we have a need in general for IT specialists, this is a growing market,” said Boyarsky, who was among the Russian leaders sanctioned by the United States Treasury on Marc. 24, 2022 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Boyarsky is head of the St. Petersburg branch of United Russia, a strongly pro-Putin political party that holds more than 70 percent of the seats in the Russian State Duma.

“Since they still work there, it would probably be right to give people with a profession that allows them to work remotely not to lose their qualifications,” Boyarsky was quoted as saying of potentially qualified inmates. “At a minimum, this proposal is worth attention and discussion if there are a lot of such specialists.”

According to Russia’s penitentiary service, the average salary of those sentenced to forced labor is about 20,000 rubles per month, or approximately USD $281. Russian news outlet RBC reports that businesses started using prison labor after the possibility of creating correctional centers in organizations appeared in 2020. RBC notes that Russia now has 117 such centers across 76 Russian regions.

56 thoughts on “Russia to Rent Tech-Savvy Prisoners to Corporate IT?

  1. Ron Colvin

    I am reminded of Larry Niven’s Gil Hamilton where a shortage of body parts led to the death penalty for minor traffic violations. If the way to get an IT staff is to use prisoners than everyone with IT talent may soon be subject to arrest?

    1. Gannon (J) Dick

      I am reminded of IG Farben, but it’s not fiction.

      So, thanks Ron.

  2. LarryF

    Time to reread “The First Circle” by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

    1. David

      Yes! I was wondering if anyone would mention that. So for the Russians, it worked before, why not try it again?

    2. JDIten

      Yep. The First Circle immediately came to mind.

  3. Eric

    Wonderful! I mean what could go wrong? Also thanks! I needed a good laugh today.

    1. Heilo

      What could go wrong?
      Well, just if some imprisoned hacker manage to put some backdoor, just in case once released he may get a nice way to make some money… Tricky but not impossible.

  4. The Sunshine State

    Would Ed Snowden be interested?

    1. ReadandShare

      Ed Snowden is not a prisoner. He does reside in Russia, but that’s only because his own country fawns all over ‘freedom fighters’ abroad but persecutes its own whistleblowers at home.

      1. mealy

        “not a prisoner”.. he’s a forced ex-pat living in an authoritarian country for cover such as it is,
        from a secretly and methodically authoritarian sect of a country that claims to be free, in as
        much as that means in 2022. He deserves a whistleblower’s welcome – as a hero and patriot.
        Instead he’s considered an idealistic threat to powers that be. Meta status : It’s complicated.

  5. marc

    russia is anything BUT organized, modern and logic-centered country. It’s still in 19th century and it’s more of a huge and chaotic circus, than well-organized place. It’s really funny to read and watch all that nonsense russians come up with each and every day. They always fail and they always will, no matter how many old school military weapons they can produce and use. “Orcs” is the best description Ukrainians gave them. So accurate.

    1. JMN

      I don’t see anything “old school” in hypersonic nukes…

      1. AJM

        Hypersonic nukes are a brute-force incremental improvement on Cold War weapons.

    2. ReadandShare

      Many Americans shake their heads at the gullibility of Russians who could so unquestionably support a strongman like Putin and lick up his lies about “nazi” Ukraine… but remain absolutely loyal to Trump and his bizarre views of the world. Not to mention in just slightly earlier times, a vast majority of Americans (~70%) rallied to support warring on Iraq – a place few knew anything about and cared even less – just because their government told them this teeny tiny country had “imminent nuclear attack capability” and threatened world freedom!

      As well, regarding bullying and bending others to YOUR ways… what did Americans thing “nation building” and “regime change” were all about?? Using Marc’s terminology above… takes an orc to know an orc??

      Full supporter of Ukraine here. But let’s not delude ourselves by equating our own arrogance as “defending world freedom and democracy”.

      1. John

        Sorry, but if I recall correctly Saddam was a tyrant, not a democratic leader. He had invaded Iran killing more than 1 million Iranians on that war, he them invaded Kuwait, to plunder it because it was broke, and he gassed the Kurds because they wanted independence. Don’t you think that it’s a little assonite to compare Russia’s invasion of a democratic neighbor with America stomping a fucking tyrant? That is the equivalent of USA invading Mexico or Canada. What was you proposed alternative? We just let Saddam do whatever he wants? Should we let him kill another million of their neighbors? It’s easy to be moralistic about it, if it’s not your family that is been killed in Iran, Kuwait, or the Kurds territory.

        If anything, the blame against USA’s interventions should be that it supports tyrants like Saudi Arabia, not that it tries to stop them.

        1. carlosmary

          Canada? Saddam was stopped to change the Oil Supply of the world from $USD to Euros or something else. He was counterfeiting $usd. Had the presses and the paper. Thats why the Art was changed on the Bills. Since the Busch and DikCheny regime was in the US had to end it. They also F’d the water in the USA to bring in Fracking. All under the 9/11attack. Get with the program. The USA had been supplying The IRAQ army with PC’s (HP) for years, Every time any document was printer by SH army, a copy was faxed via satellite to the CIA. VOTE REPUBLICANT.

          1. carlosmary

            Kuwait & BP Petroleum hired a PR Firm to get the dumbass Americans to rally and pay and fight this war.

            Too bad the Saudi’s () have been in bed with GWB’s family for years (financed them). Just drove thru Texas and was amazed how many wind generators were erected. Didn’t see any live birds let alone masses of dead ones killed by propellers, That family was the first in TX to go solar.

            Oops sorry for the realistic rant. Lookup the real reasons, not ones promoted by your lack of or capacity to find the knowledge.

        2. Tru Worde

          Stomping an “effing” tyran huh? Shouldn’t you be at school or playing videogames sonny?

      2. David

        And the appearance of the mandatory anti-Trump comment…..

        1. mealy

          “no one is above the law” is an inherently anti-Trump comment.
          Let’s make excuses for criminals, you start.

  6. Captain Obvious

    Can you just imagine how many bugs and back doors will be inserted into anything these fine folks will be working on? Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Does anyone actually think anymore?

    1. John Dallman

      Note that this scheme doesn’t seem to have any customers yet. It’s being created by the prison service and politicians. Both of whom probably believe that it would be easy for customers to check that the forced laborers have done their work correctly, without additions or omissions.

  7. John Simon

    Huh. Give a “tech savy” prisoner a computer and internet access, what could possibly go wrong?

  8. Phil

    Now this couldn’t possibly go horribly wrong right? Start boosting advanced awareness of pen-testing in a society of criminals who dream about the better score out of boredom…

  9. WildBill

    I am sensing a feedback loop coming here. As we’ve seen in the US, when prisons become a source of useful labor and profit (e.g. privatized prisons), this motivates authorities to increase the incarceration rate and dole out long sentences.

    In Russia, this seems to have the potential to take on an even more sinister element. Who are the people being thrown into prison who also have IT skills? I think many would include dissidents, or just technically savvy people who help others get around restrictions and access international news and sites. The feedback loop being fed would be to lock up more of these young, tech-savvy activists and have them, quite literally, slave away at low level IT tasks.

    Will the gulag come back in digital form?

    1. mealy

      “Will the gulag come back in digital form?” It’s known as “meta” now.

    2. Jim

      Does it motivate the juries sending them there, too? Nitwit.

      1. CalmBill

        Juries only decide guilty or non-guilty.
        Judges are the ones who decide punishment like incarceration and for how long.

        And in many cases in the US, even the Judges are not allowed to exercise their judgement when it comes to sentencing, as the state legislatures often set mandatory minimums for certain crimes. It becomes a big business for the “for-profit” prisons to lobby those law makers to be “tough on crime” and keep the prison population high for even non-violent crimes.

      2. WildBill

        Jim, I think you need to spend a moment acquainting yourself with the American legal system. Most cases where the offender is sentenced to prison (private or otherwise) have no jury involved, and are done via plea agreement or bench trial. Sentencing is in most jurisdictions also not up to the jury, and studies have shown cases involving private prisons typically result in the judge imposing a moderate increase in sentencing duration.

        Also, authorities in states with private prisons are motivated to increase the arrest and prosecution rates, since this makes money for the state. The jury doesn’t determine who the DA charges and who they decline to prosecute; grand juries are relatively rare. point was if this happens in a democracy, how bad can this get in a totalitarian country which coined the term gulag?

  10. Dan Topek

    $281/month for forced labor seems high in russia..

  11. Kevin Fitch

    I suspect there are a couple typos: “According to the BCC … The BCC says”, but the link is to the BBC.

  12. ReadandShare

    What Putin wanted to do: Regime Change. Nation Building.

    Sound familiar? No, it wasn’t cute either when we did it.

    1. ReadandShare

      Sorry for the repeat post! I thought my earlier post failed. Of course, it showed up right after I posted again. Sorry.

    2. ACH

      Because they are sooooooo comparable.

      Get a life and go outside and learn the difference between day and night.

      1. mealy

        They are comparable in that : War is acceptable internally under x conditions.

  13. Alex M

    OK, CEH is an abbreviation for what again?

    Certified: I get that one, after some correspondence with, they manage the cert of CEH and other cybersecurity certs

    Ethical: Not sure about this one, what’s ethical in Putin’s little (19th century with hypersonic nukes) world may not be so anywhere else; also, not sure if there is any single *body* to keep the hacking *ethical*, certainly no set of guidelines or codes such as ACM espouses, that MS, Google, Apple, Amazon will all abide by …

    Hacker: Beside the fact that this term goes from + to – every few years, like whether a glass of red wine every day will kill or extend your life: Very unusual for *any* hacker, ethical or otherwise, to be un-mindful of the economic rewards of being a white hat or a black hat!

    How many years was Kevin Mitnick banned from the “Internet”? I’m pretty sure he did *some* jail time, and has gone on to make a pretty good living afterwards, Вся власть СССРу! Part of American agit-prop is to make us believe we’re fat, dumb, and losing the cyber war(s)! Same as Russian agit-prop (pointed at Twitter, FB, etc.), right? I believe if the idiot pillow fart guy and the former presidential old fart get their way, we’ll just get rid of all voting machines and replace them with Republican hand counters, which may not be as V. V. Putin would like!

  14. Jon Clifton

    Gives a whole new meaning to “Inside Threat”

  15. M1g

    Well, maybe they will put k0pa Burkov to work , since he is back home

  16. Vladimir Putin

    Is it “desperation” to have to turn to your local pedo for assistance? Or is it “all part of the plan”?

  17. TRX

    Uh… using prison labor for tech support goes back to the 1990s. Native English speakers and even cheaper than Bangladeshi labor. Dell is the only one I remember now, but there were several large software publishers who were also using prison labor when the story hit the news.

    Lots of companies use prison labor for farming or manufacturing as well, at a considerable advantage over their competition who are paying regular wages. There have been a few lawsuits – one from some automatic transmission rebuilders against the state of Florida – but the courts have declared in favor of the prison system in every case I’m aware of.

    Here’s a general article about prison labor:

    Yes, it’s slave labor. Yes, it’s legal in the US, and no, the 13th Amendment doesn’t prohibit it:

    Section 1
    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2
    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Once you’re convicted, you’re toast unless you’re in a state that prohibits slavery under its own constitution. And even then, they might simply call it something like “work therapy” or “labor rehabilitation” and rent you out anyway.

    1. bob

      And what’s wrong with it? Just because it’s “slavery” doesn’t mean it’s “wrong.”

      Labels are not arguments.

      1. CalmBill

        This is not the place to include the comprehensive argument against slavery. We’ve already settled why slavery = wrong. And fought a bloody war too. For the people who wish to rehash and pretend it isn’t settled, they are the reason we might have to fight another war. We don’t learn the lessons of why slavery is bad or why fascism is bad, we are doomed to repeat the horrors again.

    1. JamminJ

      Interesting story. Multiple failures by OCI. Why would someone serving multiple life sentences qualify for a program designed to provide “job skills” for when inmates are released? This is probably often overlooked as many states use this excuse for cheap prison labor.
      Also, as an IT manager for a telemarketing call center for Case Energy Partners, I wonder if his supervisors were fully aware of the nature of his crimes. They may have understood at the time of hiring that they were getting inmates, but perhaps if they knew that computers were used in his felonies, they would not have allowed him to be an IT manager with unrestricted admin access.

  18. Dr. Feelgood

    Ezekiel 23:20:

    20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.

  19. JackSparrow

    I only see losers here and that includes those who want to leave the country. Perhaps some are welcome in countries like Kazakhstan, but Western countries will wonder if they aren’t importing Russian criminal structures.

  20. imogene

    Russians “don’t want those jobs.”

  21. bob

    And what’s wrong with it? Just because it’s “slavery” doesn’t mean it’s “wrong.”

    Labels are not arguments.

  22. tita

    Your blog is very informative for me i got many things from your blog and it is very useful information,

  23. Pixelart123

    This is correct. I have seen a few prisoners who are very good at graphic design, especially pixel art graphics.

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