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Part I: The Prison Library as Pro-Social Institution
By Judith Jordet, MLS
Published: 04/11/2011

Library-a If your prison does not have drug, alcohol or education programs, do not conclude the only task a prison has left is to warehouse inmates. Also do not conclude that without programs, all the pro-social input the inmates have available is the moral and ethical role model of individual staff members. Regardless of how sparse your prison programs, or how packed your inmate population, there are miniature pro-social institutions operating in every prison. These miniature social institutions model to inmates how beneficial it is to participate voluntarily and willingly in group activities to the mutual benefit of everyone. The core meaning of “pro-social” can be summed up in one recognizable outcome, “the consent of the governed”.

Every prison has a cafeteria, canteen or commissary, medical services, recreation department and prison library. These are examples of institutions operating within the Correctional Institution community. These everyday group experiences are excellent examples of how, when inmates cooperate, they all benefit from a pro-social framework. I want to share how I manage my prison library with an eye toward teaching pro-social moments and cultivating the experience identified by Mark Covin as the “consent to be governed”.
"Prisoners are physically held within the organization against their will. Thus, their consent to be governed can by no means be taken for granted. Usually, this consent is purchased through one form or another of social support.” The Prison Journal Volume 87 Number 3, September 2007 p.368
Inmates are in prison AS punishment for their crimes, not FOR punishment. So the goal is not to neglect the library as much as possible, but to manage the library to be an experience of a little pro-social life. The prison library has more potential than merely as a supplier of recreational reading. It can be a place where inmates experience a model of institutional social support that gives them the opportunity to voluntarily consent to be governed. By supporting inmates with a collection development plan, it implies their participation in a well managed library.

When managing a library with the goal of giving inmates a pro-social experience, it is important to start with a collection development plan that takes into account inmate reading habits with an eye toward expanding their interests based on demographics. Simply put, not only do I consider what inmates read but, in my case, what kind of books do non-criminal adult males in my state like to read?



The easiest collection process (I would not label it a “plan”) is to rely on users (inmates) to donate the books. There are hidden assumptions with this common practice. It does not reflect a reliable cross section of the types of books inmates actually read; only the types of books inmates are willing to give up. If this is the primary way a collection is built, it will reflect too narrow a collection. A collection development plan based on demographics and surveys will offer a more diverse collection that invites inmates to expand their reading experience. It also demonstrates to inmates how the library supports them socially by taking their interests into account.

A Collection Development plan is the foundation of managing a library as a pro-social support institution. It is the task of supporting the reading interests of the inmate population that informs them of the social value of a library. When an institution such as the library supports inmates pro-socially, it may look like “customer service” but more importantly it will model to them how they can bond to a social institution.

Social support is defined as the delivery (or perceived delivery) of assistance from … social networks … in meeting the instrumental and expressive needs of individuals. The consistent delivery of social support, I argue, forms the basis of consent in complex organizations and is especially crucial for maintaining the consent of the governed in prisons. Under conditions of consistent delivery of social support, coercion remains in the background, used only as a last resort for compelling compliance.
In this quote, Mark Covin explains how the role of a social organization (such as my prison library) can model and teach pro-social behavior for inmates who voluntarily participate. I want an inmate to witnesses a social organization taking into account their interests in reading through surveys and demographics. Then I want them to comply with the procedure- “request a book, find a book, check out a book, read the book, return the book on time”. The measurable outcome will be inmates participating in a pro-social exercise that demonstrates a real life experience of good citizenship also recognized as “consent of the governed”.

PART II The Prison Library as Cultural Connection, will be how to use Demographics as the foundation of a Collection Development plan:

Editors Note: Corrections.com author Judith Jordet graduated with Masters of Library Science in 2000, she worked as a government documents librarian and taught Library Skills at Central Oregon Community College. In 2007 Jordet became the full time Library Coordinator in the Oregon Department of Corrections. 70% of her job is as a law librarian. She is also in charge of the general reading collection in eight "Pod Libraries", one for each unit in the Correctional Institution where she works. Her passion for inmate literacy motivates her to explore ways to promote to the correctional profession, the importance of managing a library among the inmate population, rather than merely supplying "books on shelves". She shares the perspective of Stanton Samenow on understanding chronic criminality and Mark Colvin on the importance of institutional pro-social support through the prison library.

Other articles by Jordet:



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