In light of two pieces of polar opposite legislation concerning books in prisons, it would seem like ebooks have found a whole new purpose. One UK ruling has banned books from being sent to inmates, while legislation was just approved in one region of Italy that would allow inmates to earn days off their sentences for reading books.
The UK ban came about following the growing problem of smuggling. Items like drugs, cell phones, weapons, and other contraband have made their way into prisons through books sent to inmates. A recent incident in the southeastern United States, while not currently sparking legislation, led to the arrest of more than thirty individuals who were smuggling drugs into one county jail inside the tabs that denote the different books of Bibles.
This ban resulted in outrage and protests, but so far the government has refused to even meet with authors or members of advocacy organizations.
In Italy, which has the second highest rate of prison overcrowding in the EU, a new bill approved in Calabria and headed to Parliament would allow inmates to reduce their sentences by three days for every book they read, with a limitation placed on how many days they can earn each year. This initiative follows Brazil’s 2012 law that allows prisoners to earn four days per book, but still has its critics as those opposed to the bill question the legitimacy of simply turning pages in a book in order to get out of jail.
But in both the UK and Italy, the problem isn’t books or reading, it’s format. In both cases, ebooks stand to have a tremendous impact while still maintaining safety and security.
Depending on device security (such as the option to disable internet access, or limiting devices to only those that require a cord connection to update books), inmates in the UK could still enjoy books, even those that are gifted to their accounts by friends or family members, without the very real security concerns of contraband. At the same time, officials in Italy could not only track how much time an inmate spends interacting with an ebook using the same technology that parents and educators use for young readers, but they can also verify the user’s annotations, highlights, or comments before assigning credit for having read the book.
While ebooks have been applauded for their features and convenience since the most recent rise in digital reading, new adaptations for the technology present themselves all the time. Officials who are willing to think beyond their own parameters for a book may be pleasantly surprised by ebooks’ ability to solve problems.