Prisoners in the small mountain town of Santa Rita do Sapucai, in southeastern Brazil, can shave one day off their sentences for every three days spent generating energy for the local township by pedaling stationary bikes.With prisons spending so much on healthcare costs, that's an extremely interesting approach. The program has only been operational for the past three months, so there's no data yet on long-term effects and benefits, but it's sure a clever idea.
Not only do the prisoners benefit, but so do local dog walkers, joggers, bicyclists, children and strolling couples: The generated power lights lamps along a riverside promenade that was heretofore abandoned after dark.
Lots of local citizens chipped in to create the program: A judge got the idea from reports of U.S. gyms using stationary bikes to generate energy, police contributed old bicycles, and engineers transformed them into stationary bikes and hooked them up to batteries donated by local businesses.
Another fascinating approach recently implemented in Brazil promotes "Redemption through Reading. Wrote Franklin:
A federal "Redemption through Reading" program allows prisoners in four federal penitentiaries to shave up to 48 days a year off of their sentences. In the labor-intensive program, a judge reads each prisoner's book report and decides on a sentence reduction of up to four days per book, for a maximum of 12 books per year. The prisons are offering similar time-reduction incentives for taking classes ranging from the elementary school to college level.According to the AP story:
These types of educational programs are commonplace in Europe. Indeed, the European Prison Education Association sees prisoner education as a "moral right." They used to be widespread in U.S. prisons, too. But in 1994, with the elimination of federal funding for prisoner education, the number of higher-education programs in prison plummeted overnight from more than 350 -- serving about 40,000 prisoners -- to fewer than a dozen, despite their proven efficacy in reducing recidivism.
inmates are able to choose from a wide range of genres, including literature, science, philosophy and classics.
To guard against cheating, participants must write a summary of each book, which is reviewed by a judge. The magistrate then decides whether to grant a sentence reduction of up to four days per book, according to the decree that appeared [in June] in the government's official gazette. Capped at 12 books a year, the program can shave up to 48 days a year off of participants' sentences.Promoting exercise and reading through such incentives makes loads of sense to me, and in the US there's be no need to physically carry a battery to and from the prison each day: Here it's possible for customers to simply sell power back to the grid. The reading program might be cheaper and more effective for scaling up to hire a retired teacher or two to judge inmate book reports. The money saved through reduced sentences would more than cover the cost and free up the judges' time.
That's many times the number of books the average Brazilian reads. A recent survey by Pro-Livro, the lobbying arm of Brazil's publishing industry, suggested the average Brazilian finishes just 2.1 books a year. Though Brazil has made great strides in reducing illiteracy in recent years, one in 10 citizens over the age of 15 still can't read, according to the 2010 census.
Still, Brazilians are thinking outside the box, as the cliche goes, about ways to make imprisonment more constructive. In part, this is to ease overcrowding and to reduce prison costs. Brazil's incarceration rate is low compared to the United States but high compared to the rest of the world (253 per 100,000 in Brazil compared to 743 in the USA; the median incarceration rate for South American countries is 175, and more than half of countries in the world have incarceration rates below 150 per 100,000, according to the World Prison Population List).
Certainly, these programs are enduring the same sorts of reactionary criticisms they would here, but at the conclusion of the AP story a prison official offered an effective retort:
The bike initiative and other sentence-reduction programs have come under criticism from victims' advocates and others who contend they coddle people who are meant to be paying for sometimes heinous crimes.
Prison director [Gilson Rafael] Silva disagrees.
"People say that we're turning prisons into a kind of luxury hotel," said Silva. "But this is the only hotel I know of where no one wants to stay."