Librarians at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center Shelton, and Washington State Penitentiary, have started using kiosks at their local institutions to send overdue notices and hold pickup notices to offenders. We are also answering questions submitted by offenders. The result has been even better than expected! At Coyote Ridge, we have drastically reduced our paper usage by sending the notices over the kiosk. The new system is a win-win for staff and offenders alike; correctional officers don’t have to distribute the paper notices to individual offenders, and offenders get their notices instantly. Quicker delivery of notices may even shorten the time that high demand items will sit on the hold shelf, waiting to be retrieved.
I have also noticed a growing volume of “electronic mail” (kiosk version) that we are receiving from offenders, now that they realize they can send messages to the library’s electronic mailbox. I’ve received countless messages that simply thank us for our services, and some that make suggestions for improvement or ask us to purchase their favorite books and music. They also ask questions about library policies and ask us to check their accounts for overdue items, and attempt to resolve item return issues over the kiosk.
The beauty of this new system is, to me, three-fold: 1) offenders are learning how to communicate effectively in an electronic world, a skill that is critical for successful re-entry, 2) conflict resolution is handled in writing, rather than face-to-face, which may encourage both parties to think about what they say before they say it, and 3) both offenders and staff are able to communicate in a much more efficient and organized way. I can send messages to multiple offenders at once, and I can send them instantly rather than waiting 1-4 days for mail delivery and response time. I can also answer questions in batches, rather than responding immediately every time someone has a question the library clerks can’t answer, and without asking offenders to wait in line at the counter to talk to a staff person. I can’t help but think this is the prison equivalent of virtual reference, and that is exciting!