Romanian law shortens jail time for prisoners who write books. (They may ax it.)

600px-Flag_of_Romania.svgRomanian officials are taking a stand against a long-standing oddity in the law that entitles prisoners to 30 days off their jail sentence for every piece of academic writing they author.

The crackdown is occurring after a surge in jail literature in the last two years— approximately 200 inmates have authored around 400 scientific works — according to figures recently released by the Romanian Ministry of Justice.

Although the law has existed since 1969, only four such scientific papers were published until 2010 (one each year from 2007). The numbers have, however, since escalated to three papers in 2011, six in 2012, 11 in 2013, 60 in 2014 and 331 in 2015.

Talk about publish or perish….in a cell.

Romanian news outlet obtained a full list of the articles and books authored by Romanian prisoners, which you can see here (in Romanian).

Businessmen Dan Voiculescu and Dinel Staicu top the list with 10 books each. Voiculescu’s record is especially impressive, given that his sentence only began in August 2014.

A spokesperson from the Romanian Ministry of Justice told us the current situation has “degenerated in a significant way”. The spokesperson added:

I am currently conducting a thorough investigation within the Romanian National Administration for Penitentiaries in order to determine what triggered the current situation.

Since the loophole has detrimental effects on upholding criminal sentences, the Ministry plans to propose an amendment to the legislation in early February “to repeal the concerned provision and eliminate any possibility to reduce sentences by publishing scientific papers.”

The government should accept the amendment, which would then be in force with immediate effect, said the Ministry spokesperson.

One prisoner on the list is businessman Gheorghe Copos, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment. According to The Guardian, Copos was accused of plagiarism in April 2015 for a book he allegedly wrote in jail titled, “Matrimonial Alliances as a Policy of Romanian Kings in the XIV-XVIth Centuries.”

Catalin Parfene, a journalist who wrote a thesis on the subject for his master’s degree in history at the University of Bucharest, told The Guardian that the book has identical structure, arguments and ideas to his work. Copos, however, has since been released from jail.

Professor Marian Popescu, president of the ethics committee at the University of Bucharest, told us the institution is currently investigating the dispute:

Our Ethic[s] Committee asked experts in the subject’s field, which is really a niche one, to undertake a cross examination of the two works.

Popescu condemned the loophole and has already called for action to be taken:

We asked publicly last year [for] this provision to be deleted as it is shameful and makes the idea of serious scientific work performed in our universities and research domain look ridiculously easy to achieve. In fact, many of these ‘works’ have nothing to do with the scientific level.

He also noted authors of many of the texts under consideration have not written books prior to their jail sentences and that their academic record often does not contain experience related to the subject areas of their books.

However, re-reviewing all the questionable works won’t be easy, Popescu noted:

Imagine how long and how many resources will take to [analyse] the scientific quality of those 400 works, which are now under suspicion. Who will do this? What about the academics who guaranteed the scientific character of the works in question? And what about those publishing houses, which are certified as science publishers?

We reached out to Sitech — the publisher of Dinel Staicu’s book titled “Atypical and unique concept under the impact of economic globalization social taxed credit, mobilizing factor of market economy upturn,” — based in Craiova, Romania. They told us:

Not all the books are accepted for reducing the sentence. There is a jury that analyses them. As a result of system setup, the books come to us with scientific recommendations from college professors. A publishing house in Romania has no interference with the law.

In this particular case, it’s unclear how the book will affect his sentence, they added:

At this moment Dinel Staicu has 7 more years of his penalty to execute.

Even if he was approved to reduce the sentence by the prison’s committee, the judge has the final answer. He decides if he will reduce the sentence or not and this could take a while. We don’t know when he has his appearings at the court house. There were many cases when the judge didn’t approve any book.

This isn’t the first problem to hit Romanian publications. A few years ago, a group of Serbian academics published a fake paper in a Romanian magazine, listing references by porn star Ron Jeremy, Max Weber and Michael Jackson.

In addition, Laura Stefan, Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Coordinator at Bucharest-based think tank Expert Forum, noted that some high profile Romanian political figures have also been accused of plagiarism. She added:

It is clear that Romania is not able to administer [this law] in a fair manner. If we cannot clean-up plagiarism of people who are not in jail I think it is illusory to hope that we will do a better job for those who are.

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5 thoughts on “Romanian law shortens jail time for prisoners who write books. (They may ax it.)”

  1. Imagine doing research, which requires approval from an ethics committee, without such approval, getting jail time that will be reduced by publishing papers from the research

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