|Photos: Felipe Dana, AP|
Prisoners in the small mountain town of Santa Rita do Sapucai, in southeastern Brazil, can shave one day off their sentences for every three days spent generating energy for the local township by pedaling stationary bikes.
Not only do the prisoners benefit, but so do local dog walkers, joggers, bicyclists, children and strolling couples: The generated power lights lamps along a riverside promenade that was heretofore abandoned after dark.
It's one of a series of new projects being implemented across Brazil to enable prisoners to improve their lives and health while working their way toward freedom, according to a story by Associated Press reporter Jenny Barchfield. With an estimated half a million people behind bars, the nation is also hoping to ease rampant prison overcrowding.
These types of educational programs are commonplace in Europe. Indeed, the European Prison Education Association sees prisoner education as a "moral right." They used to be widespread in U.S. prisons, too. But in 1994, with the elimination of federal funding for prisoner education, the number of higher-education programs in prison plummeted overnight from more than 350 -- serving about 40,000 prisoners -- to fewer than a dozen, despite their proven efficacy in reducing recidivism.
Let's hope that other countries struggling with overcrowded and dismal prisons will follow Brazil's lead and implement similar rehabilitation efforts that provide a sense of hope and some chance for prisoners to turn their lives around.