The Draft of Catherine II’s Penal Regulations in the Context of European Penitentiary Thought




penitentiary reforms, eighteenth century, Catherine II, John Howard, Penal Regulations, The State of the Prisons of England and Wales


This article considers the “penitentiary turn” in the ideological content of Catherine II’s penal policy, i. e. the transition from the punitive orientation of justice to the principle of rehabilitation by means of punishment. The author mostly refers to The State of the Prisons of England and Wales (1777), a fundamental work by English philanthropist and penologist John Howard and Empress Catherine II’s handwritten draft of the Penal Regulations (1787). Relying on the techniques of intellectual history, the article aims to analyse the polemical, historiographical, and legal assessments of Catherine’s legislative initiatives and review debatable issues. The consideration of the ideological content of the Penal Regulations in the context of eighteenth-century European (mainly English) penitentiary thought makes it possible to perceive it as an attempt to systematise and summarise the best practices of European countries based on the “principles of love and mercy”. The author compares Catherine’s penitentiary ideas and the basic principles of organising prison affairs promoted by John Howard. The author concludes that their basic positions are similar and were later embodied in the modern principles of the philosophy and practice of corrective punishment. However, the main concepts of penitentiary reform in Howard’s writings are characterized by a personal-psychological approach, with a pronounced focus on the moral and religious conversion of convicts in the conditions of a rehabilitating imprisonment. The project of the Russian empress is distinguished by a strictly state approach, increased attention to economic issues, and the problem of the establishment of a penitentiary service. In the era of Catherine II, Russian penal policy became systematic and elaborated, with expressed intentions of correction by punishment. The Russian penitentiary apparatus began to take on the appearance of a system with a clear centralised structure.

Author Biography

Svetlana Vasilieva

PhD (History), Deputy Head of the Department or Philosophy and History, Academy of Law and Management of the Federal Penitentiary Service.

1, Sennaya Str., 390000, Ryazan, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-3030-262X


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How to Cite

Vasilieva, S. (2022). The Draft of Catherine II’s Penal Regulations in the Context of European Penitentiary Thought. Quaestio Rossica, 10(1), 168–184.



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