The Brazilian government announced a new program whereby prisoners can reduce their sentences by up to 48 days per year through reading books, but the effect that this will have on inmate rehabilitation and reducing Brazil’s prison population remains to be seen.
On June 22, a new initiative entitled “Redemption through Reading” was introduced that will allow inmates in four of Brazil’s federal prisons to reduce their sentences by four days for every book they read. Under the program, prisoners will have 30 days to read a work of literature, science, philosophy or classics and will have to write a grammatically correct review. Participants can read up to 12 books a year, therefore allowing them to take 48 days off their prison term annually, reported O Globo.
A special panel will determine which inmates will be eligible to participate in the program, and every piece of work produced by prisoners will be subject to review. If they find that the work has been plagiarized, the prisoner will automatically lose their right to continue in the program.
São Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi told Reuters, “A person can leave prison more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world,” adding, “without doubt they will leave a better person.”
According to 2005 data, around 70 percent of Brazil’s prison population had not completed basic education.
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Like many other states in Latin America, Brazil suffers from a vastly overcrowded prison system. According to statistics released by the country’s National Penitentiary Department (DEPEN), in 2010 there were approximately 445,705 inmates throughout the country, despite there only being capacity to house 281,520. Redemption through Reading is therefore a welcome initiative in trying to ease this problem.
However, as the Christian Science Monitor points out, it is not clear how useful such a program will be in the actual rehabilitation of prisoners and ensuring they do not revert back to a life of crime. Given the endemic lack of education among inmates, standards will likely be low for the book reports despite the existence of a review panel, and it will therefore be difficult to determine if an inmate has properly read the book and “enlarged their vision of the world,” as Kehdi predicts.
In addition, the incentive could create a black market for prisoners writing book reports for others in order to pass the review panel. Inmates who have not been selected for the program may be co-erced into producing reviews for those who have, meaning a prisoner may significantly reduce their sentence without actually having participated. Strict policing of the program will need to be carried out to ensure it attains the desired results.