Brazil’s Prisoners Pedal Their Butts for Time Off

Freedom is just a bike ride away for some inmates.

Policemen stand inside a federal prison in Catanduvas in Brazil's southern state of Parana, built in 2006. (Photo: Jamil Bittar/Reuters)

Jul 19, 2012
Kelly Zhou has written on a variety of topics for TakePart, predominantly politics, education, and wildlife.

Biking in exchange for freedom: Not a bad deal for inmates at some of Brazil’s most innovative prisons.

At one lockup in Santa Rita de Sapucai, prisoners volunteer to pedal stationary bikes for eight hours a day. Energy created by the bikes, in turn, powers lamps in the town’s promenade at night. For every three eight-hour days of pedaling, prisoners get a day dropped from their sentences, reports the Associated Press.

The stationary bikes are hooked up to car batteries; the charge generated by the cons is converted into the energy needed to illuminate public areas frequented by honest, vulnerable citizens.

MORE: Five Prison Charities Helping Inmates Give Back

Devised by the town’s judge, Jose Henrique Mallmann, the two-month-old program is still in something of a pilot stage, with just eight participants and four bikes. The goal is to eventually have enough bikes so that inmates can power all 34 riverside street lamps via bike, the prison’s director Gilson Rafael Silva told the AP.

Ronaldo da Silva, an inmate who is serving more than five years for holding up a bakery, has already shaved 20 days off his sentence—and lost nine pounds in the process.

The project is just one of the innovative approaches in Brazil’s prisons, designed to both alleviate overcrowded prisons and reduce recidivism by improving inmates’ self-worth.

Four federal prisons in Brazil are taking another approach: Essays. Reminiscent of high school English classes, the “Redemption Through Reading” program will cut 48 days off a sentence for every 12 books an inmate reads annually. Inmates must write a summary of each book they read, which is then reviewed by a judge. The judge decides whether or not to shave time off the inmate’s sentence, up to four days for each book.

While some criticize these programs as cushy treatment given to criminals, prison director Silva sees advantages to such methods.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Silva said. “People who normally are on the margins of society are contributing to the community. Not only do they get out sooner in return, they also get their self-esteem back.”

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