Writing Wrongs

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?

4 thoughts on “Writing Wrongs

  1. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary got a Royal Pardon, in the early 90s, for his very distant relative inside for Heroin dealing . The lucky recipient was a guy that I last saw being frogmarched into the block in Fortress Prison X. I had met the guy in the early 60s and he probably was the next denizen of my freezing but immaculately clean dungeon.
    He had got his chums to hide some weapons around the City with a Bren Gun being stashed in my street! Cunningly simple and without the sleepless nights of developing characters and plot.
    He then got his mates to contact MI5 and the local Bizzies who warned us unsuspecting residents not to be afraid as the arms cache was not terrorist but criminal connected. I was so reassured, thanks Chief Constable.
    Maybe the guy is now working on a book about these same exploits. The story does not need any creative imagination just few changes of identity to protect the guilty (politicians) and ,hey presto, manuscript off in brown envelope to Amazon who will surely publish it.
    For myself maybe, a man with no literary talent and less ambition, they will give me a few weeks remission from the Residential Home if I learn a few stanzas of poetry, hopefully Shelley. A pleasant task that might slow down my memory loss?

    • It brings me back to that quote I wrote about a while back: laws are like cobwebs which catch small flies but let wasps and hornets break through. Our legal system is structured to oppose this (justice for all), but our political system undermines justice at every turn.

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