Recently Romania trialled a law whereby prisoners who write a book can have their sentences reduced. The aim was to encourage prisoners to spend their time constructively. It also encouraged those who cannot read and write to learn how so that (from the prisoners point of view) they can write a book and get out sooner and so (from society’s point of view) they would be less reliant on crime to survive once they are released.
However, the law has now been suspended following an investigation into possible abuse including the writing of a 212 page book in just seven hours. Investigators suspected that the book had either been plagiarised or ghost written.
This is a law I would absolutely love to see in Britain, but it is one which is very dependent upon the culture of the country. For example, I read recently that more than 50% of the entire population of Iceland have had at least one book published. Apparently it really is that common of a thing to achieve. On one hand I think it is great that publishing is so accessible to people there, but on the other hand, I expect that the value and esteem of authors there is greatly reduced by this fact. If sand was made from diamonds…
Meanwhile, in some Arabic countries, prisons have a rule whereby you can have your sentence reduced by learning portions of the Qur’an. Learn a verse, get out a day earlier. Learn a chapter, get out a month earlier. Learn it all, have your sentence commuted. Many countries have such laws, enabling prisoners to be released earlier if they achieve something. Not here though.
In Britain you can have days added to your sentence if you get into further trouble, or you can get out on parole if you are deemed to be a low enough risk, but you cannot have your sentenced reduced as such, no matter what you achieve.
I have seen prisoners single handedly teach others how to read. I have seen them act as mediators and counsellors, preventing negative patterns of behaviour by other prisoners. I have seen them provide medical assistance to those in need. I have seen people come to prison with no qualifications, no work history, and no social skills, and achieve a degree, a number of post-release job offers, and a spotless record of interactions with both staff and prisoners alike. I myself have come to the aid of staff (teachers on both occasions) who were under threat of attack by prisoners. At what point do we say that a prisoner has exhibited behaviour and achievements which are positive enough to justify a reduction in sentence? Or are we to believe that prisoners, simply by virtue of the fact that they are prisoners, can do no right?