On February 24, 2015 Library Associate Jean Baker participated in a “Help and Program Fair” at The Washington State Penitentiary. This is an annual event with the intent of reinforcing positive changes in the prison environment and is held in response to the establishment of the Group Violence Reduction Strategy. The purpose of this event is to present all of the programs available to inmates and to help them choose different and more productive paths while serving their sentences. This year about forty inmates attended the Fair. Facility officials gave opening remarks and the various guests and programs were introduced. Those included education classes in basic skills, life skills, bookkeeping, and trade education. Other programs centered on helping inmates establish a pathway for success included Redemption, Inside Dads, Toastmasters, Dog Training, and the Sustainable Practices Lab. After introductions the inmates were free to visit the presenter tables to ask questions and get printed information.
Representing the library, Jean attended this program and presented information about how the inmates can utilize the library’s resources. Prison libraries provide access for inmates to books, magazines and newspapers, a service that is highly appreciated by the inmates. The goal of the librarians is to help inmates find resources to help their re-entry into society. The library maintains an extensive collection of re-entry materials on Housing, Education, Health and Benefits, Veterans issues, and Directories. The Prison Libraries consider this an essential service, to provide inmates with learning options and information to assist them with transitioning to their lives outside the institution.
In our recent “Essential Needs Survey” the staff and the inmates of our prison libraries were very vocal in their support for their libraries here are a few comments we received:
“The State Library is essential for prison safety. Offenders who spend time reading are less likely to be behavioral problems. The need for services for our disabled prisoners is essential as are the resources needed to for offenders to engage in self-help through literature.”
“Many young women have never been in an environment safe enough to read openly about anything they wish with no condemnation or ridicule. This alone should justify our library.”
“I am an inmate at a Washington correction center and the library has always been my favorite place to spend time looking up information on ancient civilizations, and as an inmate it provides a very special distraction for the inmate. I believe in libraries so strong I work in the library. It also provides a calming effect to those who seek a quiet place to study.”
“I’d like it to be known that I’ve acquired an AA degree, 52 credits from Peninsula College and several credits from Centralia College – all while incarcerated. However, I’ve learned more from the books I get in the library (often ILL as well) that all of my college education combined.”
“I am a patron in correctional facility and I can personally say without the library we would not be able to improve ourselves. We have access to countless educational tools to improve ourselves and become upstanding community members. They also help reduce the violence because many people use the library to be better people.”
Clearly our Prison Libraries are highly prized by both the staff and the inmates they serve.