Benefits of Books in Physical and Mental Prisons

Kristen Twardowski


We often talk about books as escapes from mental prisons, but they have a place in physical ones as well. In US prisons, libraries play a valuable role as centers of entertainment and knowledge for the over 2.25 million adults incarcerated. They also decrease the likelihood that inmates will reoffend once they are released.

Prison libraries can take multiple forms. In some of the largest correctional facilities, libraries fill entire rooms. In others, the library consists of only a single cart of books pushed to various cells. Some prisons have budgets specifically for stocking their libraries. Others rely only on whatever book donations they receive.

Over the years, the American Library Association has done several surveys of prison librarians and brought back assessments of their collections. In one survey, these librarians described the following:

  • “Small but well balanced collection, similar to a public library
  • Heavy use of homegrown newspapers
  • Prisoners…

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