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How Important Is Reading in Prison?

Brazil and Italy are trying out a novel way to help put prison inmates on the right track. Both countries have programs in which prisoners can have their sentences reduced slightly if they read a book and write a short paper about it. At Casa de Custodia de Piraquara, a huge penitentiary facility in southern Brazil, prisoners can get four days taken off their sentences for every book they read. Only certain books qualify, and sentence reductions are capped at 12 books (or a 48-day reduction) a year.

Reading sentences, reducing sentences:

  • In Italy, convicts get three days of sentence reduction for every book they read. In both countries, officials hope to reduce overcrowding, promote literacy, and empower inmates to make different choices.
  • Italy has the second-worst prison overcrowding in Europe, after Serbia. And Brazil has some of the world's most dangerous prisons, wracked by disease and gang warfare.
  • “We hope to create a new perspective on life for them,” says a Brazilian official. “This is about acquiring knowledge and culture and being able to join another universe.”
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