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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Michael Jackson's Thriller and Prisoner Health

I just read an LA Times article about a new prison program in Santa Rita Do Sapucai, Brazil.  In exchange for reduced sentences, prisoners ride stationary bicycles that generate power for a city boardwalk.  

The program was created by a local judge, Jose Henrique Mallman, who got the idea for this program after googling "renewable energy" on the Internet.  Mallman, like many progressive minded folks, started realizing that prisons were doing little to reform inmates and had little effect on violent crime rates.  Mallman is also moving to create a program that would reduce prisoner stays for reading and submitting book reports.  

Prisoners are already singing the praises of this program.  The program has kept some prisoners busy, who report feeling physically and mentally healthier as a result.

The Dancing Prisoners of Cebu Prison, Philippines
Reading about this program reminds me of a 2007 viral video of prisoners in the Philippines doing a choreographed rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."  If you haven't seen this video, and you have a few spare minutes in your day, you should check it out.  It's pretty amazing.  

This program was engineered by the prison's chief, Byron F. Garcia, who believed that a dance program would help improve the physical and mental health of inmates.  

I am a big supporter of these kinds of programs.  In addition to encouraging health promoting behaviors and reducing prisoner stress, I believe that they encourage teamwork and cooperation amongst a population that is often internally divided.  I like to believe that these programs might be settings where some prisoners build positive relationships with other inmates and may help some inmates develop social skills that they hadn't developed in other domains of their lives. 

How do others feel about these kinds of programs? Are they worth it?  Are there other similar programs that are shown to work in the US?