MOSCOW, September 30 (RIA Novosti) - Close on a third of Russian female prison inmates have been convicted for murder. The shocking figure came from Sergei Balkov, deputy chief of the federal Justice Ministry penitentiary board, as he was addressing a roundtable at the Federation Council, parliament's upper house.

"The ideas of prison and woman appear mutually incompatible-but even a recent extensive amnesty did not cure the matter. Forty thousand women are serving their term in Russian prisons now, and another nine thousand are in pre-trial detention," he said.

Of adult inmates, 30 per cent were convicted for murder or bad assaults and batteries, an equal number for drug trafficking, 18.6 per cent for thefts and burglaries, and 7.2 per cent for armed robberies. 30 per cent of underage convicts are guilty of burglaries and armed robberies.

7.8 years is an average prison term of Russian women convicts, and 32 their average age. Women presently account for 70 per cent of the total number of convicts-an unprecedented share.

Husbands, lovers and friends are the most frequent victims of women murderers. Many murders come as raped women's vengeance.

Psychological advisers and social workers are active in women's prisons and convict camps to adapt the inmates to life at large, to which they will eventually come back. Pregnant women and mothers of infants in arms enjoy privileges-a more nutritive diet, medical specialists' services, and more comfortable cells.

Russia had 777,400 inmates of both sexes in prisons, convict camps and pre-trial detention houses, as of September 1. The number has shrunken by 304,000, as against a record-breaking May 2000. "We expect it to go further down, and get steady at 700,000," said Mr. Balkov. The cell floor space has increased to 4 square metres per capita. It occasionally was less than a metre a mere four years ago, he added.

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