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Correctional Insights

Why Prison Libraries Are Important to Inmates and Staff

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.

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Articles Recidivism

Former Inmates are Critical to Reforming Criminal Justice

“Within 3 years of release, 2 out of 3 people are rearrested and more than 50% are reincarcerated,” as noted by healthypeople.gov. This troubling statistic is evidence that our criminal justice system is broken, and while the causes for this are many, the input and participation of former inmates could be the key to unlocking better outcomes for inmates in the US.

Those inmates who legally escape the corrections system have something to offer: Perspective. They’ve seen the system from the inside-out, and they’re among the best to offer opinions to solve its problems. After a lengthy stint of incarceration, a former inmate has already lived through what’s right and wrong with the system, which should be invaluable material for policy-makers.

Former inmates can also do a wealth of good for the people who are still incarcerated in their former institution. Take for example, the story of Pastor Ron Smith. He was incarcerated for 6 and a half years before eventually turning his life around to become a preacher. Now, he returns to offer counseling and guidance to the young men who are in the same place where he used to be.

However, Ron can only visit so many correctional facilities. Former inmates may have valuable insights for the currently incarcerated, but they need a metaphorical megaphone for their message to truly have an effect. That’s where a technology like digital signage comes in. With digital signage, many facilities can easily disperse content to their inmates on a regular basis.

Imagine if this message from former inmate Tim Hurley was broadcast across jails nationwide: “The No. 1 ingredient required to make it is humility. When humble, I am teachable.” These are the kinds of messages that need to be amplified, and we can get more of them if we just listened to former inmates more often.

Encartele believes that inmates need to hear messages like this, so we regularly produce free rehabilitative materials for public use.

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Correctional Insights

The Importance of Rehabilitative Content for Inmates

The sheer number of people who pass through the correctional system on a daily basis is staggering. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 77 million people in America have criminal records. Putting aside the fact that criminal justice in America is in need of massive reforms, our correctional institutions are missing out on a huge opportunity. Going to jail is a punishment, but it could also be an opportunity for every individual who passes through the facility. That’s why rehabilitative content for inmates is so important.

When an inmate enters a jail, they can still choose how they want to spend their time. They have fewer options, but choice is still a part of their daily existence. Frequently the choice is between escapism and self-improvement. For example, during rec time, a hypothetical inmate could either watch TV or do pushups. However, the options for rehabilitative content for inmates can be quite limited.

Many inmates (possibly even the majority) actually want to better their personal situations. They want access to group therapy, law libraries, and educational resources. Inside some institutions, rehabilitative content for inmates is in high demand, not only from inmates, but from staff members too. Content has the power to soothe, instruct and improve lives – of course correctional officers and jail administrators want inmates to have access to it. Content makes the facility safer.

The fact is, we are probably years if not decades away from reforming the mass incarceration epidemic America is currently facing. In the meantime, millions of people pass through institutions that could be offering rehabilitative content for inmates they house. Everyone benefits when this kind of content is dispersed, even the inmates who don’t need to be rehabilitated.

Where would you rather be: in a jail with other inmates who engage with positive content, or in a jail with inmates who have nothing to lose? Most people would probably prefer an environment of rehabilitation rather than senseless incarceration. By promoting rehabilitative content for inmates, we can make an immediate difference in the quality of life for millions of people.

Encartele believes rehabilitative content is critical, so we regularly produce free materials for public use. Click here to download them for free.

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Correctional Insights

Can Jail Cause PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder normally thought of as something that only affects soldiers and military members coming back from a stressful deployment. In fact, PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through some terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Because a stint in jail can include repeated traumatic events and habitual stress, inmates are at a greater risk of developing the disorder. 

Trauma from Jail Time

Research cited by promisesbehavioralhealth.com states that “African American men who had been incarcerated were two times as likely as those who had never been to prison to have PTSD. Thirteen percent of the men with PTSD had been in prison, while less than 8% who had never been incarcerated struggled with the disorder.”

Unfortunately, this higher rate of PTSD could explain why inmates experience so many problems adjusting to life outside of prison. Issues like unemployment, suicide, domestic violence, assaults, substance abuse often affect people with PTSD. As a result, PTSD and the problems that come along with it could be a key part of recidivism.

What Causes PTSD?

Crime isn’t always traceable back to a single choice. Similarly, most of the research about the link between prison and PTSD can’t pinpoint the exact causes of the disorder. Prison is full of variables. Plenty of inmates across the nation probably have short sentences and see very little of what causes PTSD. In addition, our brains adapt and function in a variety of ways, and we all respond differently to stress.

That being said, a number of stressful events can trigger the disorder. They are:

  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Observing Murder
  • Observing a near-death experience

How to Help

According to newsmedical.net, in order for prisoners to deal with PTSD, they need “to understand the trauma in the right light.” Some inmates may be harboring background traumas, or events in the past that are shaping their present. Mental health experts need to resolve these past traumas as soon as possible.

“[A]voidance, stress levels, depression, self-blame and anger” all can affect inmates troubled by PTSD. As a result, inmates can benefit by learning controlled breathing techniques and by improving their coping habits.

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Correctional Insights

Incarceration’s Affect on Inmates’ Children

Last year, childcare costs per family averaged $8,772 nationwide. Parents across all tax brackets will feel this increase, and many will rely on dual income sources to finance their childcare expenses. The children of inmates are especially vulnerable to these kinds of rising costs, because in most cases, there is no second income to support them.

In fact, the children of inmates are more likely than their peers to experience a whole range of disparities related to education, wealth outcomes, and family contact. These disparities may seem like insurmountable challenges, but jail administrators and prison officials can make a real difference in the lives of the children of inmates.

Pursuing an Education

For kids with parents behind bars, it’s harder to pursue a post-secondary education. Researcher Joseph Murray found that the unintended consequences of parental imprisonment included the “diversion of funds away from schools and universities.” In part, this means that family earnings and wages aren’t invested in the next generation. Instead, those funds are redirected to provide for the incarcerated parent.

If jail administrators can find ways to reduce the costs incurred incarcerated parents, that money could instead be used to fund the child’s education. For officials looking to go the extra mile, setting up a scholarship fund for inmate children could also be an effective way to support their educational aspirations.

Short-Term Family Wealth

When a parent is first incarcerated, their children are almost immediately financially disadvantaged. According to Professors Amanda Geller, Carey Cooper, Irwin Garfinkel, Ofira Schwartz-Soicher, and Ronald Mincy: “The incarceration of a father, even when parents are no longer romantically involved, often leads to decreases in household resources.” Because children with incarcerated parents are more at risk for economic and residential instability than their peers, it may be harder for them to build assets of their own as they mature.

To combat this reality in Ghana, researchers Kwadwo Ofori-Dua, Kofi Osei Akuoko & Vincent de Paul Kanwetuu made the following recommendation: “Economic problems are major challenges facing families of incarcerated persons. Prison authorities should enhance the ability of inmates to work while in prison so that they [can] remain economically active and remit their families at home.” While this recommendation pertains specifically to the prisons of Ghana, making similar adjustments here in the US could provide more funds for the children of inmates.

Maintaining Family Contact

In addition to the educational insights presented in his work, Murray also found that “Ninety-five percent of women reported that family contact was extremely important to them, but only 67 percent of imprisoned mothers were visited by their children. The absence of visits appeared to relate to practical difficulties of travelling, distance between prison and home, the cost of travel, and visiting times.” It is important to note that these practical difficulties have nothing to do with the intent of the child.

Often, it is not the child who decides whether or not to visit their incarcerated parent, but the child’s caregiver. Researchers Julie Poehlmann, Danielle Dallaire, Ann Booker Loper, and Leslie Shear write that “[Caregivers] need support for dealing with their stress and concerns about visitation. The financial and logistical difficulties of arranging visitation, as well as the increased burden presented by the demands of child rearing can affect the caregiver, who often serves as gatekeeper in terms of his or her willingness to facilitate contact.” For caregivers, arranging transportation, shelter, and all the other considerations that go into a physical visit can be overwhelming. However, jail and prison officials can take direct actions to reduce these logistical and financial burdens.

How Officials can Help the Children of Inmates

Simply by modifying their facility’s community-facing messaging, jail administrators can entice caregivers to schedule visits, instead of rebuffing them. Prominent, easy-to-read visitation rules and availabilities are key to inspiring confidence in caregivers, and a confident caregiver is that much more likely to schedule a visitation for their child. An incarceration facility’s website is also critically important. Jail administrators should hound their webmasters into making their sites as user-friendly as possible.

Finally, if increasing parent-child contact in your facility is important to you, consider partnering with a socially conscious video visitation provider. Make it a priority to find one that offers a secure, standalone solution to enable frequent teleconferencing between children and their incarcerated parents. No child should ever be denied the opportunity to visit their parent because the hotels, gasoline, or time off of work is too expensive. With a video visitation solution, jail administrators can keep families close, and in frequent contact.