Famous author J.K. Rowling once quipped, “When in doubt, go to the library.” Ray Bradbury was also a library fan, exclaiming, “Without libraries, what do we have? No past and no future.”
Why do we hold libraries in such high regard, especially in this age of digital innovation where reams and reams of paper can be reduced to a USB drive small enough to wear on a pendant? From antiquity’s Library of Alexandria to the modern architectural wonder that is the Seattle Central Library, from the humble public school library to the pop-up libraries that sit roadside in rural areas, it’s easy to see that humankind has always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
Libraries collect, store, and impart knowledge, history, creativity, and more – and they do this in several formats. Classic literature and history books show us how the world was. Modern to-do and DIY manuals help us live our best lives. Fiction takes us from our usual grind and transports us to faraway lands, to riveting mysteries, and to the far reaches of unexplored galaxies. A good book can really transform your life on a physical, phycological, career, mental, and/or spiritual level – and this is why a public library in Oklahoma is launching a program to help inmates get on a career path for their post-prison life.
TEL Library has partnered with Oklahoma rehabilitation and diversion centers to present a prison education program called Career Foundations. This program will enable adult offenders to obtain high school or GED diplomas, along with middle and entry-level job skills. As a pilot program, and as benefits the mission and vision of public libraries, Career Foundations is currently being offered for free.
“We believe that every adult in the U.S. should have access to educational opportunities that will help them launch real careers with livable wages. This is a key pathway to hope for many in our society. One of the most underserved groups consists of the millions of adults in U.S. rehabilitation and correctional centers,” TEL Library executive director Rob Reynolds noted in a media article. “Education provides motivation and reward and also gives adults the understanding they need to make better life decisions.”
Prison education programs reduce recidivism, but also have a dramatic financial effect, as described in a research article published on the ERIC website. Journal of Correctional Education, v61 n4 p316-334, authored by John H. Esperian, quotes, “…It is far more profitable for states to fund education classes for inmates for two reasons: first, doing so reduces recidivism dramatically, and second, because educating felons eliminates the costs associated with long term warehousing. Statistics …support the argument that it pays to educate.”
There is something truly heartwarming about a library spearheading a prison education program. We know that prison education works to reduce recidivism, to reduce taxpayer impact, to create healthy communities, and to boost the labor pool and therefore the economy overall. Libraries are the seat of knowledge; the timekeepers of humanity’s past, present, and future; the catalyst from where dreams begin and lives are changed. Combining everything that makes a library with the power of prison education? That’s magical.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News, and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com, and PrisonerResource.com.