Federal prison Education Departments maintain both leisure and law libraries. While the format of these libraries can vary, the principles are the same. This page explains libraries in prison and how inmates access prison libraries.
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Libraries in Prison
Every Federal Bureau of Prisons institution has an inmate leisure library and an inmate law library.
Both libraries are typically within the institution’s Education Department and are accessible to all inmates in the general population. All leisure and law library services are available free of charge (excluding printing and copying costs).
Federal Prison Libraries
All inmates in Federal Bureau of Prisons’ custody have access to leisure libraries. Libraries in prison provide incarcerated people access to a free selection of books, magazines, and newspapers. These can be checked out or reviewed while in the library.
Library collections vary by federal prison, but a few aspects are commonplace. For example, most federal prison Education Departments subscribe to USA Today, New York Times, and other local and national newspapers.
As for magazines, Time, Rolling Stone, and People are staples. Books are a bit more varied. Many bestselling books find their way into the library through prison purchases or inmate donations.
Federal prison facility libraries typically have more resources than state prison correctional facilities. Additionally, they tend to offer various library programming activities. For example, in the law library, inmates can conduct legal research, read United States federal laws and regulations, and more.
The Structure of Libraries in Prison
While there are many layout arrangements for federal prison leisure libraries, books are the central component. Much like a public library, prison libraries hold a variety of books for the population’s usage. The books include both fiction and nonfiction.
Actual selections vary significantly from institution to institution. This is because book purchase decisions are made depending on the local Education Department budget, the desires of the Supervisor of Education at each institution, and the books donated by individual inmates. Likewise, community service projects sometimes donate books to prison libraries.
Leisure libraries in the federal prison system tend to be locations of inmate congregation. This is because they often contain many tables and chairs for inmates from different housing units to socialize.
While one would hope that the library would be a location of quiet contemplation and learning, this is rarely the case. More often than not, federal prison libraries are noisy places of commerce, not areas of learning and growth.
How to Check-Out Books, Magazines, and Newspapers in Prison
Inmates may check out books from their prison’s leisure library. This typically involves the library clerk writing down which inmate checks out which specific book. The prison librarian then provides the inmate with a card stating when the book must be returned.
Inmates can usually check out books for two weeks before returning them. If an inmate fails to return a book within the allowable timeframe, they may be placed on a late list. If this doesn’t work, inmates are put on call-out (i.e., the BOP’s daily appointment system) to collect the text or face disciplinary action.
While federal prisoners may check out most books, reference texts are usually exempt from being checked out. This is because they are more expensive and of immediate use to a more significant proportion of the inmate population.
While not a structured educational program for inmates, library resources provide excellent recreation and personal development sources.
Interlibrary Loan Program
If inmates are interested in specific books not offered in their prison’s library, they might luck out with an interlibrary loan program. Some federal prisons engage in these programs while others do not.
If an inmate’s prison engages in such a program, they can submit a request for specific books. If the fiction or nonfiction books are available from a partnering library, they are called to the Education Department several weeks later to pick up and check out their selections.
After reading interlibrary loan books, inmates must return them to the Education Department. Prison staff then return these loaned books to their home prison library. Typically, these libraries are from the local community (e.g., state libraries or library systems), not other prison facilities.
Prison Library Movie Programs
Many federal prisons offer a DVD/VHS viewing program. This program is often available in the Education Department and the Religious Services Department. Inmates can watch these movies on specific TVs in the library.
Prison libraries often offer a wide selection of educational and entertainment videos. In this program, inmates can sign up for specific time slots to view DVDs (and VHS tapes, which are rapidly being phased out). The DVDs are owned and managed by the respective department hosting the service and can include a vast array of titles.
Inmates can often find commercial movies (e.g., The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies) and more educationally focused titles (e.g., History Channel videos).
Prison movie programs are typically operated on a sign-up basis. As such, inmates must go to the library at a specific time to sign up for a particular time slot for the following week. But be forewarned, these federal prison Education Department movie programs are popular. As such, inmates should promptly sign up for movie slots at the indicated time.
Some inmates sign up for the maximum number of slots every week. When the Religious Services Department hosts this program, most DVDs focus on religious instruction (e.g., lectures and documentaries). Still, many facilities have a liberal view of the use of commercial films that have a spiritual connection of some sort.
Your Libraries in Prison Experts
If you or a loved one are preparing to enter federal prison, hiring an experienced prison consultant is essential. The Zoukis Consulting Group can help you prepare for your sentence, resolve any issues, and review your case to determine if you qualify for early release.
We offer a one-hour initial consultation so you can learn more about our services and how we can help you. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!
Published Mar 26, 2022 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Mar 26, 2023 at 1:49 am