|Three Benefits From the Law Library|
|By Joe Bouchard|
Most corrections professionals know that there should be a judicious balance between security and providing programming. Without programs such as chapel, work assignments, and recreation, institutions would be harder to manage. Programming provides useful activities that offer intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual growth for offenders.
Naturally, there are many instances of abuse of these programs. It is realistic to assume that not all who attend a program will adhere to the rules, play fair or even use the program for its intended purpose. Realistic corrections professionals know this and can minimize the damage done by programs abusers by administering the proper verbal reprimands or misconduct reports.
Programs professionals have the duty to maintain a safe program. This improves the program for those who wish to use it for legitimate purposes. But we realize that the world is not perfect and there are schemers in the prison population.
A key program is the law library. And the irony of a corrections agency providing resources to bring suit to corrections officials is often thrown at the civilian library staff by colleagues. Still, whether one agrees or not, there are constitutional rights to remember. And our best defenses against litigation are adherence to policy, professionalism, and good documentation.
Despite naysayers, the law library does offer positive points. Here are some of them:
Canary in the mine - Problems of any institution come to light when under the grievance procedure or litigation. The products of the library actually act as an indicator of problems. This is a repository for policies and procedures. And when deficiencies come to light, those can be remedied for the benefit of all.
Pressure relief - Law libraries also serve as a pressure release valve. Staff are safer when prisoners use legal rather than violent means to solve problems. Tensions are often diminished when offenders are productively engaged in research.
Legal remedies – Law libraries allow access for convicted persons to address conditions of confinement and seek post conviction remedies. We must remember that not all offenders are necessarily guilty of all charges.
The benefits of law libraries are certainly hard to deny. And like all programs, the law library is part of a complex system that makes an institution.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Joe Bouchard, has been with the Michigan Department of Corrections since 1993 as a Librarian for the Baraga Correctional Facility. He also teaches criminal justice and corrections classes for Gogebic Community College. He is the editor of The Correctional Trainer, the official journal of the International Association of Corrections Training Personnel and MCA Today, the official journal of the Michigan Corrections Association.
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