Reading has become much more than just a way to pass the time for inmates in Brazil’s federal prison system. Prisoners who are approved for the program can now reduce their sentences by 4 days for each book they read, up to 12 books a year. Works of literature, philosophy, classics, or science will count toward the sentence reduction.
Along with reading books, the prisoners will also be required to write an essay about each one that must “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing” (The Guardian).
Why should inmates who read get out of jail earlier? Part of the incentive for this government program is undoubtedly an attempt to alleviate the crowded conditions in Brazil’s prisons by releasing prisoners faster. But officials also believe that reading informative literary works could have a rehabilitative effect on inmates.
Lawyer Andre Kehdi, who runs a book donation project for prisons, said “A person can leave more enlightened and with an enlarged vision of the world. Without a doubt they will leave a better person.”
Does reading make you a better person?
Reading does a lot of things. It provides us with entertainment, makes us better communicators, and gives us an expanded view of the world we live in. But does reading make you a better person?
Some people say yes.
Researchers Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby believe that reading fiction and identifying with the characters in stories can influence the way we act in our own lives. They coined the term ‘experience taking‘ to describe the act of “spontaneously assuming the identity of a character in a narrative and simulating that character’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, goals, and traits as if they were one’s own” (i09).
Presumably this theory of character improvement through reading only applies when the reader identifies with a positive character in a book, rather than a villain or evil character.
In the end, I don’t know whether reading can make you a more moral, honest, or “better” person. But there are certainly many benefits to reading, and any program that promotes literacy and quality literature is on the right track to building a better, more informed society.