Cruel Judge Sentences Woman To Read Malcolm Gladwell As PunishmentS

Eco-saboteur Rebecca Rubin was sentenced to five years in prison this week for her involvement in actions taken by the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front back in the '90s. Also she was ordered to read Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, David and Goliath.

The Canadian Press reports:

She was ordered to pay more than $13 million in restitution upon her release and perform 200 hours of community service. Rubin is a Canadian citizen. Her sentence will not be carried out until she is naturalized in the U.S., which Aiken said she expects soon.

Aiken included in her sentence an order to read two books: "David and Goliath," by Malcolm Gladwell, which Aiken said Rubin could learn non-violent means to protesting systems she perceives as unjust; and "Nature's Trust," by University of Oregon environmental law professor Mary C. Wood.

Can judges really assign required reading to the convicted? Is that even allowed? Does Rubin have to write a book report? And more importantly, couldn't forcing someone to read Gladwell be considered cruel and unusual punishment?

One might imagine that the American justice system is sufficiently brutal without throwing homework into the mix, but there is in fact a long-standing and heartwarmingly genteel tradition of prescribing books to convicts.

In July 2012, for example, a woman in Pennsylvania was sentenced to eight years in prison and also to read the Book of Job. For a time in 2011, one Houston judge's sentences would include an order to read a Christian workbook (?), The Heart of the Problem.

Not all such requirements are religious, however: when teen revelers broke into the late Robert Frost's Vermont home in 2008 and caused $10,600 worth of damage, part of their sentence included attending a seminar led by a Middlebury professor on Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken"—a fate worse than death.

But then, perhaps such skepticism is misplaced: evidence does exist that more structured bibliotherapy programs like the Changing Lives Through Literature program really do have a positive impact on individual convicts' lives—even if it remains unlikely that poetry will ever change underlying structural issues, like the fact that more than 3,000 people are serving life sentences for non-violent crimes.