September 10, 2012
Jose Henrique Mallmann, a Brazilian Judge in Santa Rita do Sapucai was looking for a way to encourage prisoners to give back to their community. In a Google search he came across a story of an American gym that used the energy from exercise bikes to power the club’s lights. Today there are there are four bicycles that require 10 hours of pedaling to fully charge one battery. The energy is enough to power 10 street lamps, out of 34 lamps that provide light for the plaza. Prisoners earn one day off their sentence with every 16 hours of pedaling (CNN News story).
This story is a reminder of why work (and education) incentives should be a part of every offenders rehabilitation plan. Some call it restorative justice, but whatever the name, its efficacy has been understood for a very long time. Scientists tell us that incentives are four times a s effective in reducing recidivism as sanctions. If you think about it, it makes sense. Those who have a chance to earn a reward are far more likely to appreciate an incentive and be encouraged to correct their behavior than someone who is punished to achieve the same end.
It also suggests that we in the courts ought to be looking for incentives wherever we can find them as a way to turn offenders away from crime. It’s not a panacea, but it is an important tool that the court and criminal justice system need to pay attention to. It is used by many correctional institutions, but rarely by judges. Why shouldn’t there be court progress reports, incentives, and certificates of accomplishments, to encourage those in custody to work toward both their successful release from custody and rehabilitation in the community. Judge Henrique Mallman figured out it could be done, and so should we.