When Prisons Ban Books, They Ban Literacy
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on April 12, 2019 in categoryStories from the FieldcategoryNewscategoryAdvocacy

Literacy in Prisons

The best way to escape prison is through a book. Of course that’s an old joke, but It is very relevant for prisoners.

Without books, prison leaves very little room for a person to reach outside of their walls, tap into the world surrounding them, and simply live life. Books give prisoners the opportunity to develop their literacy skills and if to be released, build an educated foundation for the their new lives when they are released. Of course, prisoners are where they are for a number of reasons, but they still have a right to imagination and learning.

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has rolled out a new policy that bans nonprofit organizations and programs from sending books to prisons. The worst part about this policy is that it was put into place for really no logical reason — groups have been successfully sending books to prisons for more than 45 years. The books are now being labeled as “contraband” when really the fact is that there is a shortage of staff in the mailroom to measure the appropriateness of the books being sent in.

Programs like Books to Prisoners, a nonprofit that has been sending books to prisons for over 45 years, are stumped by the new policy and are fighting to reverse the ban through social media and petitions. The nonprofit sees books as tools for prisoners who want to learn and open themselves up to new possibilities in life. By mailing tens of thousands of books to prisons across the US each year, they continue to build upon their mission to foster a love for reading behind bars, encourage the pursuit of knowledge, and break the cycle of recidivism.

Books to Prisoners tweets: “Given that we’ve sent books without issue since 1973, and currently send to 12,000 unique prisoners across almost every state in the country each year, it would be bewildering if after 46 years of work as an award-winning nonprofit we decided to start transporting contraband.”

While there is worry of a domino effect of bans like this across other states, most book bans are reversed when challenged.

It appears Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running for president and has previously supported books in prisons, would like his DOC to reverse the policy as well. “I’m going to make sure DOC endeavors to find some solution to this problem,” he said.

Rehabilitating with Literacy

Books encourage a love for reading in prisoners and motivation to learn, which has ultimately been shown to reduce the rate of re-offending. Research shows that inmates who are educated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison.

Bans like these impair the efforts of programs like Books for Prisoners in their attempts to encourage rehabilitation, imagination, and skill building for prisoners.



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