What makes a good prison library

0-1At Jails to Jobs we realize the importance of inmates getting access to job search information so they’ll be ready to hit the pavement upon release.

And one way to get that information is by spending time in the library of the facility where they are incarcerated.

In order to help serve those inmates, we’ve begun a campaign to get our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, into every prison library in the U.S.

But what makes a good prison library and how do they help incarcerated people prepare for success on the outside?

We thought we’d ask Brandy Buenafe, principal librarian of the Office of Correctional Education, Division of Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Here’s what she had to say:

Do you have any idea of what percentage of prisons in the U.S. have libraries?

I am not familiar with the entire United States. I know here in California all of the state prisons have libraries, some more than one. There are 35 institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and 125 libraries.

What is the goal of a prison library?

Our goal is to provide an accurate source of unbiased information, including updated reference and legal resources. We also provide fiction and non-fiction reading books.

What makes a good prison library?

I think when the library is perceived by custody, staff and inmates as fulfilling the above goals, it is a good library. I am also encouraged by our libraries that offer additional literacy support, such as book clubs, essay contests and reading reward programs.

How do librarians evaluate the books that go into their libraries?

Books are evaluated by several pieces of criteria, including a list of disapproved titles, the reading needs and desires of the population, and several mandates including percentages of fiction and non-fiction.

How much emphasis is given on job search info in prison libraries?

CDCR libraries include many pieces of self-help information, including resume writing and successful re-entry. We are also part of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs, which has a Community Re-entry Office.

What do prison librarians do to encourage the use of the library among the inmates?

(They sponsor) contests, and do marketing (both word of mouth and on inmate television). The contests are generally around designing a bookmark or writing an essay or poem. Rewards range from certificates of completion to special food items, such as soda pop.

How do you think prison libraries can be improved?

That’s a really good question. We are focusing on recruiting more staff, as there is historically a high vacancy rate. We are highlighting the safe working environment, excellent pay and benefits, and opportunity to impact the lives of individuals and society. We are also often behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology, but in California that is just a matter of time. Now that we will be offering in-person college courses in our institutions, our libraries will need to improve their database offerings, and I’m confident we can do so.

If any readers know of a prison librarian who would like to receive a complimentary copy of our book for their library, please tell them to contact us.