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Man reading a book
Reuters/ Eric Thayer
This man hasn’t been sentenced to read, but he’s picked up a book anyway
LOCKED IN THE LIBRARY

Iranian criminals are being sentenced to read books

Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

Reading books and writing reports are forms of punishment familiar to many high school students.

But an Iranian judge believes that reading could help deter offenders from committing further crimes, and is sentencing criminals to read books instead of spending time in prison.

Judge Qasem Naqizadeh, president of a criminal court in the northeastern Iranian city of Gonbad-e Kavus, is trying to reduce the local prison population by ordering criminals to buy and read five books each. The convicts then have to write a summary of their reading, which is handed into the judge, reports the BBC.

The punishment is mainly for young people without previous convictions and individuals found guilty of minor crimes. Offenders may choose their reading from a selection of approved texts and are also required to study a saying from the hadith, which is a collection of quotes attributed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Reading books “strengthens the spirit of faith and the will to solve social problems,” Judge Naqizadeh told state-run news agency IRNA (link in Farsi). He added that the sentence would avoid the “irreversible physical and psychological impact on convicts and their families” that comes from time in prison.

Judge Naqizadeh began handing out reading sentences after a recent law ruled that judges could decide on alternative punishments to prison in certain cases. The selection of books includes simple texts as well as more sophisticated writing, so even uneducated criminals are able to read the literature.

It’s an unusual sentence, but Judge Naqizadeh’s policy could prove effective. After all, education is an essential tool used to help rehabilitate convicts.

And while reading may not be a foolproof solution to recidivism, neither is prison.

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