Romania’s crackdown on corruption and fraud in recent years has created a sudden and unexpected literary boom, as prisoners publish hundreds of non-fiction books on subjects as varied as soccer, real estate, God and gemstones.
It’s quite a feat for inmates with no access to books or the Internet, often without tables in their cells. Reports that one book, of 212 pages, was written in seven hours, has only increased suspicions that the improbable treatises are often ghost-written or plagiarized.
Under Romanian law, prisoners can have their sentences reduced by 30 days for every “scientific work” they publish, subject to a judge’s decision on whether the book merits it. Prisoners pay publishing houses to print their works though they won’t be found in any bookshop.
The law dates from the communist era and was aimed at imprisoned intellectuals who were not suitable for manual labor. Skilled manual workers are able to work to reduce their sentences.
Until recently only a handful of such books were published, but in 2014 that rose to 90 and in 2015 it spiraled to 340.
Prosecutors are investigating whether rich and well-connected convicts are paying university professors who are required to approve the subjects of the books or others to write them for them.
A prosecutors’ statement cited the case of the 212-page book written by an unidentified prisoner in under seven hours, as well as a 180-page book written in 12 hours.
Laura Stefan, an analyst at the Expert Forum think tank, which promotes transparency and good governance, says the “scientific works” coming out of Romania’s jails have more to do with the wealth and influence of the inmates than their literary talent.
“What we are seeing ... is the result of high-level people ending up in jail. These very powerful people are also rich and they can afford to have high-quality counsel, lawyers who teach them how to use the legislation,” she told The Associated Press.
“The quality of the work is poor, and some are bluntly copied.”
Allegations of plagiarism against ministers and high-ranking figures are commonplace in Romania, yet rarely investigated. A university panel in 2012 found that former Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized his 2003 doctoral thesis.
Justice Minister Raluca Pruna has called for the law to be abolished in an emergency ordinance.
“I noticed a very large growth (in publications) in a very short space of time,” Pruna told the AP. “It was clear the procedure had not been applied in a strict manner.”