The old conception of evil for evil dominates the oldest Russian law. The Russkaya Pravda begins with the words: “The man takes revenge killing by death.” Likewise the Lithuanian statute and the Ulo ž enieof 1649 they taught that retribution is the purpose of punishment (“Whoever sets fire to a city or houses, he himself will be burned without any mercy”). In a second time, the principle of revenge is understood with restrictive criteria, and the concept that it is possible to replace revenge with pecuniary redemption emerges. The ransoms benefit both the injured party and the taxman. This means that in this epoch two aims are to be achieved with the penalty: the satisfaction of the injured party and the achievement of material profits by the state.
For the first time in the juridical monuments of the states of Moscow and Lithuania, the purpose of defending society from crime and the criminal is assigned to the penalty. It was during the Muscovite period that the state took the place of private individuals in the evaluation of crimes and in the determination of penalties; and only after Peter the Great can it be said that it definitively renounces the concept of collective or family responsibility, basing its punitive claim on personal responsibility. With Catherine II’s Nakaz, a new task begins to be assigned to punishment: that of the re-education of the offender. The Nakaz represents, in the history of Russian law, the first and imperfect attempt to absorb Western legal thought. The Ulo ženie or nakazanjach of 1845 distinguishes the penalties in: a) “capital” (definitive removal of the offender from society, with deprivation of all political, civil, property and family rights), and b) “non-capital” (temporary removal, deprivation of some goods and rights, possibility of amendment).
A step forward in the evolution of criminal laws was taken under the reign of Alexander II. The abolition of servitude imposed a series of humanitarian reforms in criminal and penitentiary matters. The Ukaz of Alexander II abolishes all kinds of corporal punishments, mitigates the harshness of some punishments for women detainees, and declares to substitute imprisonment for corporal punishment imposed by law. In 1862 the “fundamental principles of the reform of justice” were published, and on November 20, 1864 the famous “Judicial regulations” (Sudebnye ustavy), including the law on the organization of justice, the codes of criminal and civil procedure, and the criminal statute of justices of the peace. At the same time, new penitentiary establishments, arrest houses and re-education institutes for juvenile delinquents were created. In 1866 the All-Russian Empire had another “penal code”, which was redone in 1885. On March 22, 1903, a new penal law was published (Ugolovnoe ulo ž enie).