Prison Update: Access To Libraries Being Cut

08 Sep, 2014

Successful reintegration upon release is greatly helped by higher rates of literacy for inmates. Many, however, are finding it harder and harder to be allowed access to prison libraries, and this is no accident. Several federal prisons are seeing large access cuts to libraries while others are shutting down the facilities altogether.

This is a response to the rising issue of overcrowding, which heightens security risks regarding moving inmates across facilities. Budget cuts are, of course, the other issue.

The Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask, decided in 2013 not to extend their contract with a library service. The service allowed for a library to be opened five days a week and over 50 items were borrowed a day. It cost $70,000 a year to maintain this service.

Prisons in Ontario and Quebec are now following suit with increasing restrictions to and closings of prison libraries. With little to do to pass the time, reading is and has been a popular activity for inmates. Libraries are really the only way for inmates to acquire reading material, since not much else can be kept in cells and families are very easily denied the ability to donate books.

The main issue is rising illiteracy rates, but what books can do very well is help establish what is known as “pro-social behavior”. This is a huge step in reintegration and it is also something the Correctional Services of Canada helps to cultivate and improve before an inmate’s release, yet they are slowly cutting out the easiest way to get to that pro-social state.

Most correctional programs require a minimum 8th grade level or higher literacy rate but the average literacy rate of inmates rarely exceeds the 8th grade.

Book clubs in prisons are also extremely important because they promote conversation and overall social skills within prisons to allow for a much easier time at non-inmate interaction upon release. Books are a great way to bring people together to discuss ideas and similar modes of thought, and this transcends any boundaries of gang affiliation and race. Prison book clubs have seen many respectful and fulfilling interactions among inmates.

Federal inmates are provided an hour of exercise every day, but yet there is no mandated minimum for hours of access to libraries. The question remains then, why is such an important aspect of prison life being overlooked in order to save money?


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