Jailhouse rock in Volgograd

Russian authorities found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms

Fish tanks, sofa beds, wood panelling—not quite what you’d expect from a Russian jail cell. So when authorities dropped by prison number 12 unannounced earlier this month, and found mafia bosses serving time in three secret, pimped-out rooms, the prison’s governor was quickly out of a job.

The head of the facility in the Volgograd region had allegedly been collecting rubles for allowing the luxurious cells, and for providing comforts like plasma TVs, imported liquor and Internet access. Framed photographs of notorious Russian criminals were hung on the wall, and a collection of handmade knives was also found. The region’s prison service tried to quiet the scandal with a statement claiming the rooms were for counselling, and that the alcohol discovered was in fact nothing but aftershave.

But Russians have heard it all before. A similar scandal played out in April, when photos were posted online of toga-wearing prisoners celebrating a fellow convict’s birthday with caviar and McDonald’s. For prisoners without connections on the outside, Russia’s penal system—recently likened to Stalin’s gulags by the country’s justice minister—is much tougher to endure. The fact that Russia is second only to the U.S. in how many of its citizens are jailed likely isn’t helping.

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