Here's the obvious: Inmates have a lot of spare time. I advised my mentee to use his (unfortunate) time to his advantage - to continue studying his area of interest (drug & alcohol counseling) and hone his intellectual skills. He wrote back: "I went to the prison library and looked for books on counseling. They were all copyright from the 1800s."
It's not a rumor or a flimsy complaint. State prison libraries are out of date and sparsely stocked, and with cuts in educational programs for inmates, I expect it to only get worse. I decided to do a little more research into this. NYSed.gov has a whole page dedicated to library services in state correctional facilities. While the site makes "general library" services in state prisons sound decent, I know the opposite is true.
The Office of Children and Family Services is currently working on legislation to broaden access to up-to-date literature in their juvenile correction facilities. However, I am not convinced enough is being done to keep state correctional facilities (where, sadly, many juveniles reside as well) current.
With some digging, I found some NGOs that are doing good work in addressing this problem:
While these programs are INCREDIBLE and effective, if we want long-term solutions, states need to get on board with funding facility libraries and more educational programs for prisoners.
Many newly released prisoners struggle with literacy, which narrows their job options and capabilities. Cultivating up-to-date libraries within state prisons and juvenile justice centers would increase literacy, promote educational and career development, and help inmates discover interests and useful areas of study. Allowing inmates to LEARN is yet another critical step toward reducing recidivism.
Katherine Russell is an author, poet, activist, and freelancer from Buffalo, NY.