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The importance of libraries in prisons.

A good book is a good friend, teacher and company. The library, which is a center where books and other informational resources are made available for use, can build the emotional, social and spiritual well-being of people who are incarcerated or work in corrections. Books that are available at a prison library bring the inmate in contact with the minds and ideas of authors that people on the outside are reading today. In so doing, an inmate is connected to the world outside the prison, thus breaking the sense of isolation that many incarcerated individuals experience.

The State Correctional Institution at Graterford (SCI-Graterford) is located 31 miles west of Philadelphia. The facility, built in 1929, is Pennsylvania's largest maximum-security prison. The grounds include an extensive prison farm on 1,730 acres; the 62-acre prison compound itself lies within 30-foot-high walls surmounted by nine manned towers. In 1989, an $80 million construction program was completed that added a new administration building, a 28-bed infirmary and 372 additional cells. Today it has about 3,000 inmates and 1,200 employees. Right now, this prison is undergoing an enormous transformation and modernization. A contract for a new twin prison that will replace SCI-Graterford has been awarded in 2011. The project, called the State Correctional Institutions Phoenix East and West (SCI-Phoenix) will be built on the grounds of SCI-Graterford and is expected to be completed in 2014. The prison will be a modern, secure facility that will house up to 4,100 offenders and will better fit the Department of Corrections' population needs, while reducing operational costs. The design will include an additional 100-bed capital case unit, a separate outside-of-the-perimeter female transitional unit, a change in housing unit layout that will allow for better staff visibility, additional space for correctional industries, and a number of security changes and features that ensure the physical protection systems in place can effectively combine technology. Hopefully, the East and West wings will have two modern, full-service libraries.

Good books are fun to read, and you can never read too much. That is where the corrections employees come in. There is something useful in our institution's libraries for everyone. To help prove this point, a library week can be held whereby every employee who visits the library and borrows any material will be rewarded with a bookmark. However, library visits should be part of our everyday culture. Libraries should even be visited as often as grocery stores. While resources from the grocery store feed the body, library resources deliver nourishment to the mind. We are just as much what we read (what occupies our thoughts) as we are what we eat (what occupies our gut). Just as the quality and quantity of the food we eat impacts the status of our physical health, an intellectually malnourished mind cannot be hoped to generate quality ideas.

In the prison, a good book will keep an inmate's mind entertained and constructively engaged while he or she serves time. Idleness and boredom lead to the design and experimentation with trouble. At that intellectual level, the library helps to promote peace and safety in our prisons. This fact has been established in research conducted by Judith Jordet. (1) In the library, an inmate can learn a new skill, such as computer competence, and prepare himself or herself for the world of work upon his or her reentry into society. According to Jordet, for example, an inmate could find guides to continuing education after prison, the U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook, an ex-inmate guide to successful employment or a list of companies offering a second chance by hiring ex-offenders. He or she could learn a new language, such as Sanskrit, or learn to understand complex life phenomena such as wars, marriage, compassion and parenting. At SCI-Grater-ford, the library will support an inmate who decides he or she wants to earn a degree from either Villanova or Devry University, or a GED from our school. The library supports inmates by providing books relevant to their program of study, which he or she may recommend that the library acquire during the collection development process. Thus, the library helps in part to fulfill the mission statement of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, which states: "Our mission is to protect the public by confining persons committed to our custody in safe, secure facilities, and to provide opportunities for inmates to acquire the skills and values necessary to become productive law-abiding citizens, while respecting the rights of crime victims." (2)

There are also great books, stories and biographies that demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit over temporary adversities. This is inspiration every inmate can use. The libraries at SCI-Graterford provide employees with materials to relieve work stress and hone job skills, as well as provide the general inmate population with novels, life skills books, comics, educational books, tools for legal research, photocopy services, daily newspapers and current magazines. In our libraries, an inmate can follow the events unfolding in far away Abbottabad, Pakistan, or even enjoy pictures of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London. In the end, while they sit here, they are part of the world outside the prison.


(1.) Jordet, Judith. April 11, 2011. The prison library as pro-social institution. Corrections Connection Network News. Retrieved from 27732.

Jordet, Judith. April 25, 2011. The prison library as cultural connection. Corrections Connection Network News. Retrieved from http:/www.corrections.corn/articles/28421.

Jordet, Judith. May 2, 2011. The prison library: Promoting reading and pro-social connection. Corrections Connection Network News. Retrieved from http://www.

(2.) Beard, Jeffrey A. 1982. Code of Ethics (DC-174). Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

In the library, an inmate can learn a new skill, such as computer competence, and prepare himself or herself for the world of work upon his or her reentry into society.

Philip Ephraim is a corrections librarian at State Correctional Institution, Graterford, in Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:A View From the Line
Author:Ephraim, Philip
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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