MOSCOW -- Former Chechen President Alu Alkhanov has been temporarily placed in charge of Russia's beleaguered penitentiary system, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.
Alkhanov, who has served as a deputy justice minister since 2007, replaces longtime prison system head Yury Kalinin, who was dismissed on March 16 by a decree from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Kalinin, 63, was named to head the Interior Ministry's Main Corrections Directorate in 1992 and continued to oversee the country's prisons after the Federal Corrections Service was placed under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry in 2004.
Kalinin was frequently the target of criticism from human rights advocates who charged him with turning a blind eye to the rampant ill treatment of prisoners and inhumane conditions in many of the country's prisons and remand facilities.
In 2008, activist Lev Ponomaryov was convicted of slander and ordered to retract a claim that Kalinin was "the author of a sadistic system of torture" in Russia's prisons.
The order dismissing Kalinin gave no reason for his removal, but unidentified sources within the Justice Ministry have told Russian media that it is part of a sweeping purge of the Federal Corrections Service that was initiated last autumn when Kalinin was formally removed as head of the service and "promoted" to deputy justice minister.
Alkhanov, a lawyer by training who served as president of Chechnya from 2004 until February 2007, has reportedly been active in efforts to reform the penal system.
"Our first task is to humanize the corrections system," Alkhanov was quoted by "Kommersant" as saying. "We must not only imprison convicts, but primarily we must educate them."
Russia currently has more than 900,000 prison inmates.