January 15, 2016

Romania to close loophole that allows prisoners to publish their way out of jail



Romanian media mogul Dan Voiculescu has published 10 books in prison, according to Associated Press. Image via NineO’Clock.ro.

The Romanian government is considering closing a loophole that allows prisoners who publish academic papers or books while behind bars to reduce their sentences, an Associated Press article reports.

Citing evidence that many works published by prisoners have been ghostwritten or plagiarized from other texts, Justice Minister Raluca Pruna proposed an “emergency government ordinance” to scrap a provision in the law that has allowed (mostly) wealthy jailed politicians and businesspersons to shorten their prison terms, sometimes significantly.

According to an article published in The Economist in October of last year, a clause in a law passed in 2013 allows convicts in the country’s prison system to “claim 30 days off their sentences for every work they publish while in prison.” Major figures in Romania who have allegedly either “taken advantage of the loophole, or hope to do so” include former prime minister Adrian Nastase, former government minister Gheorghe Copos (who produced a book about “the matrimonial alliances of medieval Russian rulers”), and the billionaire Ioan Niculae. The soccer player, Gica Popescu, is apparently “on the verge of early release after penning no fewer than four titles,” and pop singer Realini Lupsa published a work about stem cells in dental medicine (yes, you read that correctly).

With so much time on one’s hands in prison, why not use it to put pen to paper at a record pace (literally, though—Romanian prisoners don’t have access to computers)?

Such justification might make sense, if you don’t account for the fact that, according to The Economist, most of the writing is done by ghostwriters and then smuggled in to be transcribed by hand by the prisoners, who then pay a publishing company to release the work in a tiny print run. According to AP, in one suspicious case, the “justice ministry confirmed that seven of the ten books published by media mogul Dan Voiculescu since he has been in prison were written simultaneously.” And multiple accusations of plagiarism suggest that Capos might be less interested in the Rurik marriages than he was in being reunited with his own spouse, Cristiana.

With 400 books published by 188 detainees between 2013 and 2015 (as reported by The Telegraph’s Hannah Lawrence), it’s hard not to ask how the sentence reductions could have been approved, and how the involvement of the publishing companies didn’t raise eyebrows. A member of Romania’s judicial council, Cristi Danilet, told The Economist that “he cannot work out whether ‘incompetence or political interference’ has allowed the loophole to be left open.” But now, as the justice ministry promises a crackdown, some of the Romania’s most active scriveners might decide to rest their calluses.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.