Getting books to the incarcerated has long suffered many problems, and things got even more challenging during the pandemic. There are dozens of programs in the United States that work to establish prison libraries to ensure the incarcerated population gets access to books. Most of these programs are supported by donors and volunteers. Carrying out the program is not an easy task since prison systems have varying and ever-changing rules.
Why are the Books to Prison Initiatives so Important
The program’s goal is to transform the role of libraries in the lives of the incarcerated. Many people in prisons will go back to the community, and they need to be able to thrive. Getting these books and education is a vital step to reentering society.
Also, like other people, anyone in prison has a right to education and entertainment. Many activists are fighting to improve the prisons’ conditions, and getting books into the prison is a crucial step. Libraries lower the recidivism rates. According to the Department of Corrections, even basic education may decrease recidivism.
Prison libraries also reduce idleness. Inmates spend quality time reading books. In most cases, idleness leads to involvement in destructive behaviors and violence, and it is most rampant in prisons. Hence, the books to prison initiative help inmates utilize their time studying and reading.
Inmates also get a chance to understand state and federal law through law books and other legal publications. The knowledge they get from the law books helps them receive fair and just judgment or treatment. Some inmates have used the knowledge to overturn their convictions which could not have been possible without prison libraries.
Giving Incarcerated Population the Gift of Reading
A new law school library’s initiative is giving the inmates the pleasure of reading books. The Yale Law School Library program is one of the initiatives that is affording this privilege to inmates. The program that started in 2020 was halted by the COVID-19 but resumed in late February 2022.
The Yale Law Library program led by Julian Aiken, assistant director for Law Library’s access and faculty services, has donated more than 1,300 books to various prisons and correctional centers. Aiken started the books to prison initiative after inspiration from (at that time) a law Ph.D. candidate, Dwayne Betts. Betts was a former prison inmate who understood better a sense of freedom after reading poems while in prison.
Aiken’s first book donation was to the Cheshire Correctional Institute, where 700 books were given. According to Aiken, the initiative delivered recent casebooks to help inmates with appeals and other legal questions. With the help of the senior administrative assistant at Yale Law School, Miriam Benson, the initiative continues to grow. The program has expanded to other local jails, including women’s shelters and homeless service providers in New Haven. Apart from prisons, shelters for domestic violence victims in Ansonia, CT, have benefited from the book’s initiative.
According to the Law Librarian and law professor Femi Cadmus, the books to prison initiative is just one way of breaking the barriers to literacy and access to information, even for inmates. Since they are intended to be temporary living spaces, many prisons have no books for the inmates. People in prisons also have no resources to buy books. That’s why prison libraries are the only way they have to access knowledge and entertainment.