The prison population has increased in the United States over the past 30 years. Each day, about 200 new jail cells are constructed.
According to prison statistics from Hearts and Minds, most inmates come from a disadvantaged background. About one-third of inmates were unemployed prior to their imprisonment. In addition, the majority of inmates had not completed their high school education and most of them can barely read. With this ongoing challenge, there is definitely a need for education support inside prisons. This is why Books Through Bars was created.
“So many prisons and especially new prisons are constructed without libraries or there are a lot of restrictions on when and how prisoners can use the libraries. On top of that, some libraries are inadequate to meet people’s needs,” Rose Levine, a member of the volunteer collective at Books Through Bars, said.
Due to the limited resources for quality books and the restrictions of the prison system, it is difficult for inmates to get access to quality reading materials. Books Through Bars, as an approved vendor, has an important task as filling unique positions at providing books at no cost to those inmates.
“Prisoners are not allowed to receive books from family or friends and many prisoners don’t actually have anybody in the outside that they correspond with or help them in those ways,” Levine said.
Books Through Bars receives requests from inmates for all types of books. Surprisingly, of all the books that are requested, dictionaries stand out as the most popular. Inmates also request books such as GED study guides, academic textbooks, vocational skills and legal studies books, just to name a few. Cultural history books are in high demand. Based on the types of books that are requested by inmates, Levine further says she believes that this demonstrates an incredibly high numbers of inmates who do not have high school diplomas or the available resources to pursue their education.
Every month, Books Through Bars sends more than 500 packages of books to inmates in the Mid-Atlantic region. In addition, the organization also trains volunteers to help with the project and the number of volunteers also increases every year.
Mike Santarelli, a volunteer at Books Through Bars, says he is not only amazed at the amount of books the organization has but he is also happy to be a part of this organization. “I came from a background where I dealt with prisoners so I know that they don’t have resources with good library so this is a worth while project that sends good quality books to them. Most of the prisons don’t have the wide selection of books like here,” Santarelli said.
Similar to Santarelli, Will Eddy says he believes by sending quality books to inmates, they can get some form of self-learning education as well as make their time productive during their imprisonment. “Hopefully when they come out, they can have a positive aspect in lives and become a better person than when they went in,” Eddy said.
According to a Pew Center Report conducted in 2008, there are more than 2.3 million American adults in jail or prison. This amounts to more than one in every 100 Americans living behind bars.
For more information about Books Through Bars please visit www.booksthroughbars.org.