The Guardian reports on using reading courses as an alternative to prison sentences:

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the death penalty, the US state of Texas seems the last place to embrace a liberal-minded alternative to prison. But when Mitchell Rouse was convicted of two drug offences in Houston, the former x-ray technician who faced a 60-year prison sentence – reduced to 30 years if he pleaded guilty – was instead put on probation and sentenced to read.

“I was doing it because it was a condition of my probation and it would reduce my community hours,” Rouse recalls.

The 42-year-old had turned to drugs as a way of coping with the stress of his job at a hospital where he frequently worked an 80-hour week. But cooking up to a gram of crystal meth a day to feed his habit gradually took its toll on his life at home, which he shared with his wife and three young children. Finally, fearing for his life, Mitchell’s wife turned him into the authorities. “If she hadn’t, I would be dead or destitute by now,” he says.

Five years on, he is free from drugs, holding down a job as a building contractor, and reunited with his family. He describes being sentenced to a reading group as “a miracle” and says the six-week reading course “changed the way I look at life”.

“It made me believe in my own potential. In the group you’re not wrong, you’re not necessarily right either, but your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s,” he says.

First off I thought this was some kind of punishment programme: can you imagine forcing people to read nothing but Eragon for two months? But no. This is based on the Changing Lives Through Literature programme, and the general idea is that repeat offenders are offered the chance of redemption through books.

I like it. I can hear my dad now going on about some wooly minded leftish nonsense, but it’s interesting, and it seems to work, which is more than can be said for prisons.

Of the 597 who have completed the course in Brazoria County, Texas, between 1997 and 2008, only 36 (6%) had their probations revoked and were sent to jail.

A year-long study of the first cohort that went through the programme, which was founded in Massachusetts in 1991, found that only 19% had reoffended compared with 42% in a control group. And those from the programme who did reoffend committed less serious crimes.

Read the rest of the article when you get a moment, and let’s not forget the books that were written in prison.

I wonder who gets to decide what’s on the reading list?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

7 replies on “Sentenced”

The thing that bothers me the most about this isn’t that there’s a happy ending. I’m bothered by the fact that you can get more years in prison for making and doing drugs in Texas than you can for committing a hate crime or raping someone. 30 years in prison for meth? I’m not saying meth isn’t bad, but if that’s our response to a problem that needs rehab (or our initial response, at least, since he was sent on probation instead), and most hate crimes are reduced to 10 years and rapists let out on average after 5, then I think something is way off here…

That said, it’s nice to see that more people are seeing the value in literature. Maybe if people read more we’d be a happier nation…

Making them watch the movie of Eragon… now *that* would be punishment.

I can see the sense in using a reading course as part of a rehabilitation programme: it provides a structure and must at least help raise self-esteem, and that’s a good starting point to deal with a lot of problems; woolly-minded leftish nonsense or not!

Makes me think of D’Angelo in the Wire talking about the Great Gatsby…Great scene. Funnily enough, I wrote a report at work (local government) about public attitudes towards cuts in services, and rehabilitation of prisoners was a service most respondents to an interview by Mori were willing to do without. Shame, as re-offending rates are so high..

So, parents who read to their kids are better than those who don’t? And schools that require their kids to read are better than those that don’t? And readers are happier, better-balanced people than non-readers? Now tell me something I couldn’t have guessed!

Bravo to anyone who hands anyone else a book to read. With very little else to do, and, since it works so well, why not make it mandatory for all prisoners to read. It’s got to be cheaper than many of the alternatives.

Lou – I’ve never actually watched Eragon. I’m guessing I’m not missing much…

Leiali – that is a shame isn’t it? It seems so counter-productive.

Adelie – sometimes the obvious needs stating! And hey, if it gets more people reading and developing the skills that come with it (critical abilities, skills of judgement, contemplation of moral choices) that can only be a good thing.

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