Cycle-power helps Brazilian prisoners connect to community

Inmates at a Brazilian prison are being given the chance to reduce their jail sentences by pedalling stationary bikes which generate renewable energy to power local streetlights

For every 16 hours pedalled at the Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison, a prisoner will have one day knocked off their sentence. They can pedal for up to eight hours a day with their efforts serving to light local streetlamps, which would otherwise be switched off.

There are currently four bikes in the prison, each taken from the local police station’s lost and found department. Local businesses donated car batteries and a converter to the cause, and neighbourhood engineers helped to transform the bikes into electricity generators, capable of charging batteries with 110 volts.

Every evening, a battery is taken to a downtown promenade and hooked up to a converter, which then powers 10 street lights throughout the night.

There are plans to add a further eight bikes to the program, with a long-term goal of generating enough electricity to power all 34 riverside streetlights in the city.

Speaking to The Associated Press, prison director Gilson Rafael Silva said: “People who normally are on the margins of society are contributing to the community and not only do they get out sooner in return, they also get their self-esteem back.”

City judge José Henrique Mallman, who implemented the scheme after reading a story about electricity-generating exercise bikes in gyms in the United States, said he’s received enquiries about the project from Para in the far north of the country and Rio Grande do Sul, in the south.

Brazil’s prisons are home to around half a million inmates, and pedalling is just one of the ways some of them can reduce their jail time. The Redemption through Reading programme operating at four prisons, gives prisoners the opportunity to slash a month and a half off their sentences when they read 12 books a year. The project aims to tackle Brazil’s significant illiteracy problem – one in ten adults is unable to read or write.