Can books help to redeem prisoners?

Italy follows Brazil in offering a chance for prisoners to reduce their sentences by reading.

Dado Galdieri/AP
“Reading is an extraordinary antidote to unhappiness and promotes awareness and social and personal redemption,” says an Italian prison official. Italy is offering prisoners reduced sentences in exchange for reading, modeling a program available in Brazilian prisons since 2012.

Are books the answer to prison problems?

Italy seems to think so. The Italian region of Calabria recently approved a bill that would reward inmates who read with reduced sentences: Three days for each book read.

How’s that for the redemptive power of reading?

“Reading is an extraordinary antidote to unhappiness and promotes awareness and social and personal redemption,” Calabria’s culture representative, Mario Culigiuri, told the UK’s Independent.

The program would cap slashed sentences at 48 days per year, or 16 books in 12 months.

Italy has the second-worst prison overcrowding in Europe, after Serbia, according to the Council of Europe’s annual prison report.

Officials in Calabria hope the prison reading program will cut down overcrowding, promotes literacy, and empowers and enlightens inmates.

It may sound like a tall order, but Italy isn’t the first to roll out such a program. The government of Brazil introduced its “Redemption through Reading” program in 2012, which allows inmates to shave four days off their sentence for every book read, with a maximum of 48 days per year.

And as we pointed out in an earlier post on the trend, even US District Judges are handing down similar stipulations, allowing inmates eager to shorten their sentences a way out through books.

The Calabrian prison reading program comes in the wake of controversy in the UK over a book ban in British prisons that restricts materials coming into jails there, including books. That book ban has incited worldwide protest.

These two approaches provide an interesting juxtaposition: books as both problem, and solution.

We’re more inclined to the latter approach, and though we’re not yet convinced that reading promotes rehabilitation, and how, we’re intrigued to see how this program progresses.   

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