In June of this year, the Brazilian government introduced a unique program to aid in the rehabilitation of inmates sentenced to federal prisons.
The Redemption through Reading initiative encourages prisoners to engage with works of literature, philosophy, classics or science by offering a reduction in prison term for each book read. Inmates who read a qualifying book and write a review are rewarded with up to four days off their sentence. The program gives inmates 30 days to read a work and the chance to read up to 12 books annually, with the possibility to reduce prison terms by one and a half months each year.
Proponents of the program hope to improve poor literacy rates and to transform inmates on an individual level, helping them to develop a deeper awareness of social and moral issues through reading. In the long term, the initiative could also help to decrease Brazil’s severely overcrowded prisons, which currently house around 500,000 inmates.
To curb fears of cheating, inmate essays are reviewed by a judge who determines whether they meet the criteria set out by the program and then decides how many days to shave off the inmate’s sentence. Many inmates have not been formally educated, so standards for the book reviews are likely to be modest, primarily concerned with whether prisoners have produced their own work and have made an attempt to engage with the texts.
This is one of a range of outside-the-box initiatives recently introduced in Brazilian prisons to help to improve the chances of inmate rehabilitation. One penitentiary also gives prisoners the option to work out on stationary bikes that are linked to a generator on the city power grid. The energy produced by inmates powers streetlights the town of Santa Rita do Sapucai in southern Brazil, and for every three days of cycling, prison terms are shortened by one day. The program is intended to give inmates a feeling of inclusion in larger society and to restore a sense of self-worth that is often shattered by the harsh reality and isolation of imprisonment.
While these creative measures cannot eradicate with psychological and social toll of prison, they go some way in making Brazil’s penitentiaries more humane, allowing the possibility self-improvement and reintegration to this marginalised segment of society.