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Inmates' use of Leisure Reading Materials (comics) in a State Correctional Institution Library - Part III
By Philip Ephraim, PhD, Corrections Librarian at State Correctional Institution, Graterford, PA
Published: 05/14/2012

Comic book In conversation with many readers of comics, they mentioned the following benefits of comics reading.
  1. Graphic novels enhance literacy. Here, we refer to literacy as reading, understanding, writing, and applying what is read in making informed decision or creative thought. Many of the inmates who read our comics learn to write and draw. Talking to reader Bobby (fictitious name used), he told me that is how he uses the comics that he checks out.

  2. Comic inspires creativity- Most inmate comic readers find the drawings really cool. So they pick up pencils and start drawing. People learn how to draw, think, and write after reading good comics over time. Some told me they are planning to write comics series of their own soon. This is because reading comics is an exposure to and an interaction with the mind of a creative and comedic creator of the work of art. It can trigger off creativity after a reasonable period of interaction.

  3. Comics enhance relaxation as the comic relief derived act as anti-stressor to readers.

  4. Comics encourage reading-from the simple, pictorial and hilarious materials, many inmates say they begin to take on more serious reading materials. This agrees with several eminent writers and thinkers who give comics the credit for helping them develop the competence for and interest in “heavier” reading. Among them is Nobel Laureate and South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu: He said in an interview, “one of the things my father did was to let me read comics. I devoured all kinds of comics. People used to say, that was bad because it will spoil my English, but in fact, letting me read comics fed my love for English and my love for reading. I suppose if he was firm, I might not have developed this deep love for reading and for English” (Tutu, 2004).

  5. Increases library visit- for struggling readers who can’t read difficult materials due to low reading levels, the availability of comic books attracts them to the library regularly.

  6. Comics improve jails security. It is a common fact that many inmates are depressed, distraught and moody. The purpose of the library is to make available healthy, leisure reading materials that will help them cope with the stress of incarceration. Comics are a genre of leisure materials that serve this purpose excellently. As inmates contact comic materials and their faces lighten up, it reflects on their moods. As they laugh and feel entertained, their spirits are lifted. This decreases tension and the rates of suicide and violence. Relaxed inmates are more tolerant. This improvement in mood impacts on the mood of the jail, thus making the place, more manageable and safer. And that is no joke!


In this study, we analyzed the loans records to see those who borrow comics to read in their cells that rather than those who read them in the library. The total volume of use could have been greater than reported if in-library use was taken into account. So the question is: Is leisure library service in jails worth the trouble? Is providing comic relief that calm the nerves of prison inmates through comics worth the trouble? In everyway!

What this study did not do was:

We did not attempt to determine whether comic book readers are better readers, but there is a reason to expect that they are, given the consistent relationship found in the professional literature between frequency of reading and reading ability (Krashen, 1993) and given the finding that comic book readers like reading and read more. Finally, we did not attempt to determine the reader’s age, length of incarceration or what reading levels (fifth, sixth grade level, etc) the comic books read were written at.

Recommendations for further studies.
  • Is there a connection between intelligence and comic reading? That is, are comic readers smarter?
  • Does comic reading produce a fast reader?
  • Do superhero readers inspire comic readers to do great deeds?
  • Does superhero comic readers take after the role models in the stories they read-like become determined, fearless, and ready to die for what they love
  • Does reading comics improve reading level?

These exciting aspects are therefore some of our recommendations for further investigation by other libraries.

Click Here for Part I

Click Here for Part II

Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Philip Ephraim, is a Corrections Librarian, at the State Correctional Institution, in Graterford, PA. He has served on numerous library committees.

Other articles by Ephraim

Baily, L. (1959 )Mass media and children: a study of exposure habits and cognitive effects. Psychological Monographs, 73, 201-216.
Hayes, D. and Ahrens, M. (1988). Vocabulary simplification for children: a special case of “motherese”? Journal of Child Language,15, 395-416.
Heisler, F. (1947). A comparison of comic book and non-comic book readers of the elementary school. Journal of Educational Research, 40. 458-464.
Krashen, S. The decline of reading in America, poverty and access to books and the use of comics in encouraging reading. Teachers College Record. February, 2005.
Krashen, S.(1993). The power of reading. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.
Mathabane, M. (1986). Kaffir Boy. New York, Plume.
Swain, F. (1948). Using comic books to teach reading and language arts. Journal of Reading, 22, 253-258.
Witty, P. (1941) Reading the comics: comparative study. Journal of Experimental Education, 10, 105-106.
Tutu, D. (2004, June 12). Interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Academy of Achievement. Available at http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tut0int-1
LaBrant, L. (1958). An evaluation of free reading. In, C. Hunnicutt and W. Iverson (Eds), Research in the three R’s (pp154-161), New York, Harper.


  1. Writing Prof on 06/14/2012:

    Excellent article! Thank you for researching and sharing. I believe any form of literacy is literacy; comics is a step.

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