In Brazil: An Alternative to Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment

by: Julia Cheung

September 26, 2012

In a local prison in Brazil, a bicycle is the quickest way out. Jose Henrique Mallmann, a judge in Santa Rita do Sapucai, recently introduced a program which he believes will serve a poetic type of justice. His program selects a few inmates to pedal a stationary bike connected to a car battery which charges as they pedal. The batteries are then used to power local street lights. In return, for every 16 hours of pedaling, the inmates reduce their sentences by a day, with no limit on how much they can bike. For the sense of security that many of the inmates have deprived from their victims, Mallmann believes they now return it in the form of light.

Mallman’s program devises a tangible answer to the overwhelming and complex issues of renewable energy and crime. It addresses overcrowding, but unlike capital punishment, it also aims to empower its inmates. A similar Brazilian program exchanges four days off a sentence for every book read. In a few federal prison’s, which holds some of Brazil’s most notorious criminals, inmates read up to twelve works of literature, philosophy, science or classics, provide a book report, and are then able to erase up to 48 days of their sentences. It’s a measure which addresses the root of many crimes: poverty and under education. Almost half of all Brazilian inmates come from poor background and have less than nine years of a education. More than 5 percent of inmates are illiterate.

The programs have thus far been well received by the public and the inmates alike. They provide a social and cultural foundation in a place where most sit idle 22 hours of the day in a cramped concrete cell, severed from the rest of society. HIV and deadly riots run rampant. Not only does the bicycle program provide a healthy alternative, it also imparts a sense of accomplishment. Currently, there are four bicycles which require 10 hours of pedaling to fully charge one battery, which can then power ten street lamps. In the near future, Mallman hopes to expand the number of bikes to 10.

Ronaldo Marcelo Wanderlei da Silva, a prisoner in Santa Rica do Sapucai, was sentenced for five and a half years for assault. During his time in prison, he has since pedaled away 20 days off his punishment. While pedaling on the bike, he reflects on his situation. “I think about my imprisonment, about my freedom, my wife, my kids,” he says.

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