Tsarist prisons didn't have a peculiarly large mortality
The comparison of mortality in the late Tsarist and early to medium period Soviet prisons
There is a quite common picture on the Internet that tries to compare mortality for the Soviet prisons and labor camps with Tsarist ones and declares that it was larger for the Tsars.
There is a great reason to think that this picture is created by the misunderstanding of the underlying sources. The author probably confused the crude death rate per 1000 and mortality in % (ie crude mortality rate per 100).
I have a bad idea what numbers are used for Tsarist mortality in general but if we open Wheatcroft [Researchgate] on Table 2.8, we will see numbers for crude mortality per 1000.
We can see that it changes from 14.4 to 52.1 for the category “All prisoners”. In % mortality which we get by dividing CDR by 10, it will be respectably 1.44 and 5.21 which is far cry from indicated results. (One can note that this confusing will lead to absurd results for both civilian CDR, it will be too high, and for CDR during transportation, in which more than 100% will die before 1900).
If we open Demographic modernisation of Russia: 1900-2000 (Демографическая модернизация России: 1900-2000, 2006, [on the site of demoscope]) Table 19.5, we will find that mortality here is presented in % (ie CDR per 100).
Here I tried to replicate in a fast manner the results for the period of 1885-1915 and 1930-1950 for prisons, labor camps, and katorga with commensurable indicators. It does indicate the noted by Wheatcroft deterioration of the Tsarist penal system in the last years, but it doesn’t show us the stark contrast from the graph above.
Wheatcroft, Stephen. (2002). The Crisis of the Late Tsarist Penal System. 10.1057/9780230506114_2.
Демографическая модернизация России, 1900–2000 Д31 Под ред. А.Г. Вишневского М.: Новое издательство, 2006.
Data for the graph on Pastebin in the long format: https://pastebin.com/gNCdeuzb
I’m planning to write far more about the Soviet demography and economic history in the future, you may stay.
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