May 13, 2014

Italian prisoners could reduce their sentences by reading books


Italy is introducing a measure to let inmates reduce their sentences by reading books. ©Alex Kosev. Via Shutterstock.

Italy is introducing a measure to let inmates reduce their sentences by reading books.
©Alex Kosev. Via Shutterstock.

The Calabria region in southern Italy (the toe of the boot, if you would) has approved a measure to allow prison inmates to cut time off their sentences by reading books, Lizzie Dearden reports for the Independent. The British reporter points out that this is in sharp contrast with the UK, where a ban on books for prisoners has sparked considerable controversy.

Covered here, and here, and here by MobyLives, the ban in the UK prevents visitors from bringing books to inmates, ostensibly to curtail smuggling (books are still available in prison libraries and for online purchase). It’s prompted outcry from prison reform groups and individuals such as human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson—who accused Justice Secretary Chris Grayling of violating the 1688 Bill of Rights by implementing cruel and unusual punishment—and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who said the new measures “hurt the soul of the country.”

The new system in Italy, meanwhile, would let inmates reduce their jail time by three days for every book they read. Their progress would be monitored by corrections officers, with a cap of 48 days per year, which could be reached with 16 books over the course of a year. The idea for this program comes from a similar one that Brazil implemented in 2012, called Redemption Through Reading, which has a four-week time limit for completing a book and requires an essay that has to “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing” in order for inmates to receive credit.

The cultural representative for Calabria, Mario Caligiuri, says that he hopes that the program will serve the dual purposes of getting more people to read and alleviating some of the overcrowding in prisons, which is worse in Italy than any country in Europe besides Serbia. He told the Independent, “Reading is an extraordinary antidote to unhappiness and promotes awareness and social and personal redemption.” Already approved by the regional government, the next step is to put it up for debate by Italian parliament.



Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.