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Special Psychiatric Hospitals (SPH) were penal-medical institutions in the USSR where people were held who had committed serious crimes and had been declared unfit to stand trial by a court psychiatric expert assessment (carried out mainly at the Serbsky Institute).

Such SPH existed in the USSR from 1939 to 1989 under the control of the NKVD and its successors, and the conditions in which people were held were similar in degree of harshness with those in prisons. They were used to isolate dissidents (in the Stalin years only from time to time, then from the middle of the 1950s as a policy). The Kazan, Leningrad, Cherkyakhov, Orlov and Dnipropetrovsk SPH were especially notorious. Public attention to this practice was drawn by the forced hospitalization of Petro GRIGORENKO (in 1964 and 1969), Aleksandr Yesenin-Volpin (February 1968), Zhores Medvedev (May 1970) and Leonid PLYUSHCH (July 1973). Other inmates of these SPH included Vladimir Bukovsky, Viktor Fainberg, Mykola PLAKHOTNYUK, Anatoly LUPYNIS, Hanna MYKHAILENKO and many others. It was their documentary evidence, (some of whom kept diaries or secretly passed on letters) which played a vital role in exposing the use of punitive psychiatry in the USSR.  Defending the rights of such inmates of SPH and providing help for them were among the objectives of the Working Committee against Psychiatric Abuse for Political Purposes The conditions in which inmates of SPH were held also became the focus of attention of the international community of psychiatrists.  In 1983 Soviet representatives were forced to withdraw from the World Psychiatric Association or face being expelled. During the years of Gorbachev’s perestroika the majority of political prisoners held in SPH were released, the very fact that such special hospitals existed became the object of widespread public criticism and in 1989 they were passed into the hands of the Ministry of Health of the USSR.


Based on material from “Memorial”, Moscow

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