by Anne Pierce, Ph.d.
Excerpt from a presentation to be given October 28 at the Virginia Library Association
10,000 to 12,000 adults and 500 juveniles in Virginia are projected to be released from incarceration and returned to communities each year 1. An even greater number reenter communities from local jails. To date, President Obama has commuted the sentences of 562 federal inmates 2. Most of these ex-offenders are used to having access to their correctional facility libraries so they will look to the local public or academic library community for resources to aid their transition, access and training on the Internet, and friendly advisors.
The Virginia correctional system provides legal library resources, library services for recreational purposes, and to support each facility’s education and vocational programs. The literacy skills that Virginia offenders may have upon release vary widely. Some will have completed their GED through classroom attendance. Others come into the system with high school diplomas and will earn college credits through correspondence courses. To them, keeping the facility library collections up-to-date is a high priority. They thrive on the ability to participate in interlibrary loan programs. Offenders who use their libraries to read the newspaper and select recreational reading will rely on a public library reader’s advisory service. Finally, the programmatic abilities of library staff are important as ex-offenders will need to learn about digital resources, and will require incentives (Library Bingo or bookmark contests) to participate in reading programs. The National Library Week theme of “Libraries Transform” provides the opportunity to emphasize the transformational impacts of reading. Posters and bookmarks remind offenders to sign-up to go to the library as there is not room for everyone to get there during the week. An example of a program is Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)3 which originated at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and is used in Fairfax County, VA as an alternative to formal court action for juvenile offenders and in conjunction with probation and parole for adult offenders. The program uses the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion. The books in the library’s collection address the power of reflection: building self-esteem and creating self -understanding; encourage thinking as students: teaching new facts and delight in learning life skills; and becoming better citizens.
1.Virginia Dept. of Social Services. 2016. Prisoner Reentry & Human Services. https://www.dss.virginia.gov/community/prisoner_reentry/.
2.Jaffe, Greg. August 3, 2016. Obama just commuted the sentences of a record number of inmates. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-just-commuted-the-sentences-of-a-record-number-of-inmates/2016/08/03/591e3a38-59a2-11e6-9aee-8075993d73a2_story.html.
- Changing Lives Through Literature Homepage. 2016. http://cltl.umassd.edu/home-flash.cfm
Feature Image: Sadie Reading by Mike