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Romania Investigates Hundreds Of Publications Written By Prisoners


For decades, Romania has given its prisoners a way to reduce their time behind bars. Publish a scientific book - get 30 days off your sentence. Now, this is a law that goes back to the communist era for prisoners who weren't suitable for manual labor. And last year, there was a sharp increase in publications by wealthy and well-connected inmates. The AP says from a handful of books in previous years to suddenly hundreds in 2015. Ovidiu Vanghele is a Romanian journalist. He joins us now from Bucharest. Welcome.

OVIDIU VANGHELE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So there's an investigation into alleged abuse of this law. What prompted that investigation?

VANGHELE: As you said, there's been a huge rise in the number of books written in prison. And this is a tool that only - I don't know - the VIP inmates use basically. These last - I don't know - two or three years there's been a huge rise in the number of books they pretend to write in prison. And I say pretend because factually you cannot write so many books in that small amount of time, and you cannot write books in Romanian prisons because you don't have access to knowledge resources. You are not allowed to have access to Internet, so you cannot use any online resources.

Still, you are allowed to ask for one book or another book to be brought to you by your lawyer or by your family when they come and visit you. But, you know, if you only use written material, it would be impossible to consult and to summarize so many things in such a short amount of time and be able to still write a notable scientific work.

CORNISH: Help us understand how these prisoners, especially these VIP prisoners, are getting these books written if people don't believe that they're writing them.

VANGHELE: This is a thing that I hope the prosecutors will shed light on. We don't know how these books - if they are being brought to jail, being smuggled to those prisoners or not. The penitentiary system in Romania is quite closed.

CORNISH: Right now we've been reading that the speculation is that prisoners are using ghost writers. People are somehow smuggling in handwritten manuscripts, right, because they have to be presented as handwritten.

VANGHELE: The law is not really clear on this matter either. That's a big problem also because we don't know if they are - I don't know if they bring them, like, a Word document on a stick, on a memory stick, or if they are being presented as a manuscript.

CORNISH: We mentioned that this is a law that dates back to the communist era. Is there any talk of changing it today?

VANGHELE: Yeah, there's been a huge investigation by the newly appointed justice minister in Romania. And their intention is to abolish the law. But in my opinion, the problem is not the law itself. The problem is the way you implement the law, the conditions and the requirements for a book to be considered a scientific work. There's been, like, you know, kindergarten books. That's the intellectual level of the books that are being presented as scientific works and are being used as to get out of jail early. That's the problem.

CORNISH: This increase in book publications, it's primarily wealthy and well-connected inmates. Does this specific fight say anything to us about kind of Romania's struggle to deal with corruption?

VANGHELE: Yes. You know, we had a lot of important persons convicted throughout the last several years. And this is not a coincidence that the penitentiary literature phenomenon exploded throughout the last years also. So this is, like, more or less a consequence of the war on corruption.

CORNISH: Ovidiu Vanghele is an editor at the online newspaper EurActiv. He spoke with us from Bucharest, Romania. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

VANGHELE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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