Prison libraries, and their counterparts in other correctional facilities, are absolutely vital to fostering better outcomes for their users. Inmates rely on them for a number of reasons, including learning, entertainment, legal research and empathy-building.
For those reasons, prison libraries are hugely important to the inmates they serve. According to this paper by Vibeke Lehmann: “incarcerated persons have a large number of unmet needs, which translate into a high demand for information, learning materials, and self-improvement resources.” This high demand isn’t always self-evident, especially to those on the outside.
Some detractors may try to argue that resources shouldn’t be spent on prison libraries, and that they don’t actually make a difference for inmates or communities. But when you consider that digital options exist for many of the traditionally paper-bound library services, those arguments lose their weight.
In fact, prison libraries affect more than just inmates. According to this paper by Jayne Finlay and Jessica Bates: “The library offers a ‘positive socialization experience’, where bonds are created with other prisoners, staff members and family members.”
These positive socialization experiences are one of the most valuable outcomes a prison library can produce. Everyone benefits when connections can be formed in safe, meaningful ways. That is why prison libraries benefit inmates as well as correctional staff.
In the future, as new technologies and methods emerge, and digital libraries become increasingly common, it will be important for us all to remember the key roles that prison libraries play in the corrections environment. In doing so, we can emulate the best practices and continue to raise people to new heights.
Encartele believes that people need to hear messages like this, so we regularly produce free rehabilitative materials for public use.