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Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library Blog: Blog

International Prisoners' Justice Day from a Library Perspective

by Lindsay Kriebel on 2022-08-03T10:58:00-07:00 | Comments

August 10th marks International Prisoners’ Justice Day. This day began as a protest against inhumane treatment of incarcerated people after the preventable death of Eddie Nalon in Millhaven Maximum Security Prison in 1974. To draw attention to issues around mass incarceration, the Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library has set up a book display featuring a selection of our books on the subject.

                                                                                  

Although this commemoration started in Canada, and issues of prison reform have been taken on across the globe, it feels especially significant in the United States, the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, by a factor of nearly five times the rate of comparable countries. Arizona’s rates are even higher than the U.S. average, at around 800 per 100,000

Critical issues surrounding prison reform include, increasing voting rights for the formerly incarcerated, combatting racial bias and discrimination, improving poor prison conditions, ending exploitation of labor, and policy reforms around high mandatory sentences and a focus on punishment over rehabilitation

Libraries and Prisons

One issue I would add to this from a library perspective is a serious lack of resources for the incarcerated. In my previous job, I answered letters from incarcerated individuals seeking legal forms and access to case records. What struck me again and again from these letters (aside from the absolutely impeccable handwriting of some) were repeated complaints about a lack of access to legal materials. Many incarcerated people – a term popularized by the New York Public Library’s prison and jail services that prioritizes person-first language – had access to very few legal books or supplies, and even fewer in print in their limited law libraries. In fact, the Pima County Jail only provides access to a tablet with LexisNexis installed on it, a resource with a high learning curve for the general public, and certainly for anyone without a legal background. 

From calling around to different jails and prisons, I found out that there’s a severe shortage of professional library staff in prison law libraries, with many libraries being staffed by corrections officers or even the incarcerated individuals themselves. So not only is there a lack of access to information, but a lack of guidance in finding this information. The only recourse for many was to write letters to their local law library and hope for a response. 

Added to this is a lack of monetary resources for incarcerated individuals. For context, the starting hourly rate in the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Re-entry’s Work Incentive Pay Program is .10 cents per hour. This severely limits access to any materials that are not free, as well as representation from an attorney. 

All these barriers to accessing legal information can be a huge obstacle to incarcerated people pursuing their own legal matters in prison, which could be anything from child custody cases to post-conviction relief petitions. 

Resources for libraries

So how can we help?

AALL’s Social Responsibility Special Interest Section compiles a list of resources for Assistance for Prisoners, including basic guides to legal research that can be sent to prisons on request, and a database of Law Libraries Serving Prisons that lists libraries who respond to letters from incarcerated people or provide other assistance. 

The New York Public Library is an excellent example in library correctional services, providing reference services by mail, sending mobile libraries to jails, and publishing their annual Connections Reentry Manual which can be requested for free. They will also provide a helpful toolkit to get started on answering requests by mail on request.  

There are also many organizations that accept book donations to prisons. Although the majority are focused on fiction and general reference materials, some will accept legal materials, like the Women’s Prison Book Project. A local organization in Tucson is Read Behind the Bars

If you’d like to read more on the subject, check out some of the books on display in our New Books section:

Cover ArtDear Books to Prisoners by Bo-Won Keum (Editor, Designed by, Contribution by); Books To Prisoners (Prepared for Publication by); Dan Berger (Contribution by); Andy Chan (Contribution by); Michelle Dillon (Contribution by, Editor); Kimberly Wogahn (Editor); Kris Fulsaas (Editor)
ISBN: 9780939306152
Publication Date: 2019-07-25
Cover ArtHalfway Home by Reuben Jonathan Miller
ISBN: 9780316451512
Publication Date: 2021-02-02

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