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WA State awarded $150k grant to improve services at prison libraries

OLYMPIA, Wash., August 14, 2022Washington State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, was awarded a $149,668 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to reducing disparities among prison libraries.

The grant will fund a pilot program by the State Library’s Institutional Library Services (ILS) and the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) to develop strategies and tools aimed at reducing disparities among library services at state and territorial prisons across the country. The pilot will bring stakeholders together to identify current policies, best practices, performance standards, and outcomes of prison library programs, and develop adaptable models for providing and improving services.

ILS and DOC surveyed 35 states through the Correctional Leaders Association. The responses came from state departments of corrections, and this data was used to determine the level of library services provided in each respondent state’s department of corrections facilities. Some prison libraries provide quality services similar to a public library, while some states have no library services at their prisons.

“This IMLS grant helps strengthen our national leadership in services to incarcerated individuals by creating best practices that will enhance prison-library programs, collections, and educational resources critical to improving literacy and quality of life,” said Washington State Librarian Sara Jones.

Sara Jones Librarian
SAN RAFAEL CA – FEBRUARY10: Sara Jones, executive director of the Marin County Free Library is seen in the Civic Center library in San Rafael, Calif. on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. After seven years Jones is leaving her post to become the state librarian for Washington. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

According to a recent UNESCO report, prison libraries play a significant role as educational, informational, cultural, and recreational spaces for the entire prison community. Providing access to relevant resources is essential for prisoners’ personal development, well-being, and rehabilitation.

The IMLS grant builds upon the $1,168,000 in recent state funding, spearheaded by State Rep. Drew Hansen, that will allow Washington State Library to expand library services for people who are incarcerated in adult correctional facilities. These services include educational programs and library materials such as state newspapers, consumer health information, and reference collections in addition to books and magazines. Also, the State Library will hire additional library support personnel for each of the nine state institutional library branches.

“Institutional Library Services is committed to ensuring people who are incarcerated have equitable and unfettered access to library services that promote education, literacy, and recovery — all of which ultimately help reduce recidivism,” said Secretary of State Steve Hobbs. “We thank the IMLS and Rep. Hansen for recognizing our commitment.”

About Institutional Library Services

Institutional Library Services (ILS), a Washington State Library, Department of Corrections, and Department of Social and Health Services partnership, provides library services to inmates in adult correctional facilities and patients in adult psychiatric hospitals. There are currently 11 ILS branches statewide. ILS strives to provide a welcoming, neutral place where informational, educational, and recreational needs are met.

About Washington State Library

Washington State Library connects Washingtonians through the power of libraries. The State Library contributes to the state’s culture and economy by supporting relevant, high-quality education, literacy and reading, and lifelong learning. Programs include the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, which provides information and reading materials for people unable to read standard print, and Institutional Library Services, which provides library services in correctional facilities and adult psychiatric hospitals.

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