Brazilian prisoners can reduce their sentences by reading

Brazilian prisoners can reduce their sentences by reading

Is reading redemptive?

The Brazilian government thinks so.

Reuters article via Yahoo News

Prisoners can reduce their sentences for four days per book read in a year, up to twelve books. So, a convict can spend up to 48 days fewer days per year in jail…by reading.

On the surface, that absolutely makes sense to me.

You can’t understand a book unless you understand the person writing it. I can’t think of any other human experience that as deeply gets you inside the head of someone else as reading a book .

I think that, generally, the more you can see things from someone else’s point of view, the less likely you are to take advantage of or cause harm to another person.

That’s what reading does.

Of course, there have been very well-read people who have done horrible things to others, but I think that’s the minority.

Most of the regulars on the Kindle forum seem to be helpful and empathetic, and I always think that having read a lot is probably part of that.

I believe this is a good program, and I endorse it.

However, I do have a few concerns.

One is the question of which books count. The books will be selected (or at least approved) by the government. That makes some sense. Books have to be of an appropriate length. There are books, such as The Anarchist Cookbook (which tells people how to make bombs and such), that aren’t likely to be on the list.

However, what about something like In Cold Blood? Helter Skelter? Of Mice and Men?

For Brazilian authors, what about

Machado de Assis


This classic 19th Century author is downbeat and challenges the status quo. Would a committee putting together a list of books that are “good for prisoners”  approve these works?

My feeling is “read anything”…but that won’t be the way an official program will go.

My other concern is that this will benefit the urban, mainstream population more than it will the rural poor.

Brazil’s illiteracy rate was over ten percent in this

Human Development Indicators document

I’ve seen indicators that is more than twice that in rural parts of the country.

In the Redemption through Reading program, prisoners must not only read the books, but write about them:

“Prisoners will have up to four weeks to read each book and write an essay which must “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing,” said the notice published on Monday in the official gazette.”

That may be statistically more difficult for people from disadvantaged areas. It could end up that poorly educated convicts spend more than ten percent more time in jail than well educated convicts.

Even so, I approve of the program. You can’t make something work perfectly. It doesn’t make illiterate prisoners stay in longer than they would have: it makes readers, who are presuming broadening their horizons and reducing their societal risk (that’s just my opinion), spend less time.

What do you think?

Is reading redemptive? Is rewarding reading in prison so unfair that a program like that should not be implemented? Would you want to see this in the USA (or in your country, if you aren’t in the USA or Brazil)? Does reading make you a more empathetic person…and therefore less likely to commit crimes?

Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


9 Responses to “Brazilian prisoners can reduce their sentences by reading”

  1. Zebras Says:

    I think its a wonderful program to help redeem prisoners. I’m sure there will be folks who will work the system, just like teenagers who hire people to write there term papers, etc. But if it enlightens one person, its a success. I only know in this country of the Maine State Prison, who has a woodworking program and store, I’ve bought some nice cutting boards, and if I didn’t drive the tiniest car when I’m up there, I’d be carting home full size furniture. They have paintings, too, and its really funny, because almost all the paintings are done Bob Ross style, and I truly hope they got to learn by watching videos of him, because if anyone could have a redeeming effect on prisoners, it would be Bob Ross.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the prison did have Bob Ross videos available. 🙂

      Do you know if and how the prisoners are compensated for that work?

      • Zebras Says:

        I don’t see on their website how they are compensated. I know they can’t put their individual names on the work that they do, and by law they can’t ship out of state, so we usually stop in every time we are up there. They even sell travel mugs that say “stolen from the Maine State Prison,” but that’s really the only tacky touristy thing they sell. They always seem to have about 2 inmates helping at the store itself, but only the corrections officer handles the money and credit cards, you even have to show your driver’s liscence if you use a credit card. Its actually not located at the prison, its in the building where the prison was in the 1800s.

  2. Jj Hitt Says:

    I think In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter would be fantastic required reading. Neither glamorizes violence or crime and both do an excellent job of treating the victims as real people, not plot devices.

    The only downside I see is Helter Skelter does detail how to monkeywrench the procesution (and told by the procesutor himself).

    No one needs a book to tell them how to use a knife, gun or club. They already know that.

    (In Cold Blood is on my All Time Top Ten List. Had to chime in.)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jj!

      I’m glad you offered your opinion as someone so familiar with both books. My guess is that an approval board wouldn’t get into that depth, but just exclude them on the basis of subject matter. The same thing happens with books that may use, say, an ethnic slur, but do it as part of argument against racism.

      In Cold Blood also stands out to me for a bit of an obscure reason…it mentions Doc Savage, I believe, and I’m a big Doc Savage fan. 🙂

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Was there any mention of tutors for those who are in the 10% who cannot read? I would be willing to conjecture that the percentage of illiteracy among the prison population might be greater than within the general population.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      No mention in the articles I’ve read, but that might be a standard part of the system. I’d be surprised if the illiteracy rate in US prisons wasn’t higher than the general population. That’s both because I think that reading would generally tend to reduce criminal tendencies…and because illiterate people would be less likely to be able to avoid prison if accused, in my opinion.

  4. tuxgirl Says:

    I think if it’s combined with an educational program (to help that 10% become literate), it could be an amazing program that could actually be *more* beneficial to the underprivileged. They go into jail illiterate, and come out with at least some level of reading and writing ability, which in turn gives them some employment options that were not available to them previously. And, if they return to their hometown, perhaps they can help teach others to read as well.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, tuxgirl!

      I’m not sure how any literacy efforts in the jails may be tied into this. They may already exist. Certainly, this program might provide more of a motivation to learn to read (and to write well).

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