Sunday, December 26, 2010
Avi Steinberg on Prison Libraries
Link to December 26 Boston Globe article, "Escape route: the surprising potential of a prison library".
Excerpt: The problem with the public discussion about libraries in prison is that it’s the wrong discussion. For over a century now, the debate has centered on reading — on which books should, or more often should not, be included on the prison library’s shelves; which books are “harmful” or “helpful”; whether reading is a privilege or a right. In 1867, Wines argued that a book like “Robinson Crusoe” — at the time, the only secular novel permitted in prison — served the cause of criminal rehabilitation. Others fervently disagreed.
But the issue of reading is only one dimension of the question, and not necessarily the salient one. The crucial point of a prison library may not be its book catalog: The point is that it is a library.
The library is a shared public space, a hub, where people spend significant portions of their time, often daily. It is a place inmates work and, in some important ways, live. It is more purposeful and educational than a recreational yard, less formal than a classroom. The prison library gives inmates an organic way to connect to the world, to each other, to themselves as citizens. It’s a small democratic institution set deep within a prison, one they can choose to join.