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Redemption through Reading

Brazil made headlines yesterday for introducing a new program to reduce prison sentences, aptly titled “Redemption through Reading”. According to this article from the Huffington Post, inmates in Brazil’s federal prisons can now minimize their sentences by up to 48 days per year by reading one book every four weeks, then writing an essay on it.

While there’s no shortage of literacy programs in prisons all over the world, I thought this was the first case where it actually had a concrete impact on a person’s punishment, but I was wrong. After a little searching online, I found Changing Lives Through Literature, a rehabilitation course introduced in the early 90’s in Massachusetts as an alternative to prison. Created for repeat offenders of serious crimes, this initiative forms reading groups where offenders discuss the classics.  It has proved to significantly reduce recidivism rates and violent behavior among participants.

Avid readers know that literature has the ability to change lives, but these programs bring this concept to fruition. By reading about characters and situations they can relate to, convicts get the chance to look at their own lives, and the way they affect others, through a different lens. They also develop skills to analyze, articulate, and communicate more effectively, equipping them with the ability to make more positive contributions to society.

Does anyone here have experience working in this capacity in the penal system?

4 Responses to Redemption through Reading

  1. I don’t have any first-hand experience, but I have spoken to a few librarians who have worked in prison libraries. They all attested to the effect literature had on the inmates with whom they worked, and how it had not only the effects you outlined above, but also increased their senses of confidence in their mental abilities and self-worth (which perhaps contributed to reduced recidivism rates?). Unfortunately, they were often faced with very tight budgets as well, which lessened the amount of literature they could make available.

  2. Joelle says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of this, but I instantly thought this could work in schools. What if instead of detention or suspension, kids were offered opportunities like this. Hmmmm….

    P.S. I mentioned this before, but your captcha is very hard to read. Every time I leave a comment, I have to copy my comment first so I don’t lose it when I get the captcha wrong. This is my fourth try posting this. Maybe I’m just not visual enough, but I don’t really have this problem on other sites. Anyone else???

    • Brenna says:

      Joelle, I’m sorry to hear about the trouble you had posting your comment. We just recently added this to the blog, but have heard of other people having this problem too. Unfortunately, prior to adding this extra step, we had a big problem with spam comments. But, the person who handles our IT is currently looking into it to see if there’s something else that would work.

  3. Brody says:

    I’m not surprised at this program’s success. One of the greatest feelings in the world is when you’re reading a book and a character is going through the exact same situation you are or having the exact same thoughts you would have. It lets you know you’re not alone, and establishes a very strong connection that could really counter the feelings of isolation and distrust people on the inside can feel.

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