A Novel Approach to Reducing Prison Sentences in Brazil

Aug 8, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

Brazil—home to some of the world’s most troubled prisons—is offering prisoners a new way to reduce their jail time: reading books.

Recently, NPR’s Utah station KUER reported on the program.

At a jail in southern Brazil, the Casa de Custodia de Piraquara, 7,000 inmates serve time for convictions including rape, robbery, and murder.

What can inmates do to reduce their sentences?  Read—and write about what they read.  For each book, inmates earn four days off their sentences. 

So, can someone serving a ten-year sentence whittle it down to two?  Not so fast. 

Philip Reeves interviewed Marilda De Paula Soares, the teacher for the program.

He reported, “Only certain books qualify under the reading program, including foreign and Brazilian classics and kids' books for prisoners learning to read. Books with very violent themes are banned. Prisoners can't binge read their way over the razor wire and concrete walls. There's a maximum of 12 books a year. That adds up to a month and a half remission.”

What makes for popular reading?  “Les Miserables” has been a favorite.  Why?  It’s about an ex-con trying to do the right thing after getting out of prison. 

Some inmates don’t like the project.  The reasons vary.  For some, it’s because they can’t read.  Others aren’t interested in reading books. 

The ultimate goal of the project? 

Reeves reported, “Staff here say the project’s about much more than just helping prisoners pass the time and get a little remission.”

It’s about changing lives.

Learn more about studying in Brazil.

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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