Can You Have Books In Prison?

By Natalie

Updated: March 4, 2020

Curling up with a good book on a cold day was one of my favorite pastimes growing up. My Audible account has been getting a workout lately when I go on my daily walks. Currently, I am making my way through Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Reading is such an important part of life because there is no better way to further your education. But, it’s also a great form of entertainment. From textbooks to cheesy romance novels, reading is a great way to spend your time. 

Most things that you experience in the free world aren’t anything like what you experience in prison. But, reading is a bit of an exception. If you can get your hands on a good book in prison, it can pass the time and help you escape into another world for a few hours every day.

This leads us to today’s blog post: can you have books in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Are prisoners allowed to take books to solitary confinement?
  • What are prison libraries like?
  • Can you send books to prison inmates?

Are prisoners allowed to take books to solitary confinement?

First off, to answer today’s blog question: yes, you can have books in prison. When you are in the general population, you have access to books from the prison library or you can have your friends and family send you books in the mail.

However, when you go to solitary confinement, you are usually not allowed to bring any personal property. This means that all of your books that your friends and family send you must be locked away while you are in the hole. 

Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment. Think of it as being in prison inside of a prison. I do know that some prisons will allow you to select one or two books from the prison library when you are in solitary, but your choices are usually limited to a few books the library staff sends to the segregation unit each month. 

When you are in solitary, you are not allowed to visit the prison library and check out books like the inmates in gen pop.

The rules for what’s allowed inside of a cell in solitary confinement vary based on the prison, but I’ve been told that every prison allows inmates in solitary to have a Bible with them if the inmate requests one.

What are prison libraries like?

Prison libraries are similar to public libraries, in that they offer books in different genres and they are organized under the Dewey Decimal System. However, a prison library is physically much smaller than a public library and the choice of books is much more limited.

Books in a prison library are usually donated, but there are some facilities that do have a small prison library budget that allows them to buy books for the inmates to check out. 

There is also a lot of censorship in prison libraries, so there’s usually not books available that feature sex and violence. True crime and horror genres are usually not allowed, either. But, there are exceptions.

The categories available at the prison library where I was incarcerated included educational/self improvement, biographies, classics, and non-fiction. Fiction was available, but like I said earlier, it’s very limited. The most popular authors were Janet Evonovich and Stephen King.

Wait lists for new books could be as long as a year, since the library only gets one copy of each book. I remember the wait list for Orange is the New Black and Gone Girl being nearly two years.

We were allowed to check out up to three books at one time, and the inmates who worked in the library had first dibs on all of the new stuff.

Some prisons do have volunteer programs like Books to Prisons or The Prison Book Program because they understand how important books are to the educational, cultural, and spiritual development of the inmates.

Can you send books to prison inmates?

One of the best things you can do for a prison inmate is send them books. As I mentioned earlier, books are a great way to pass the time in prison, but it can be difficult to get your hands on a good book from the library.

The one thing I should mention is that when you send your inmate a book, you have to make sure it is brand new and is mailed directly from the vendor, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can’t mail new or used books directly to the inmate yourself. If you try that, they will be sent back to you, destroyed, or donated to a local public library.

Also, you can only send paperbacks to your inmate because hardcover books are considered weapons.

Most prisons have a limit on how many books an inmate can have in their possession at one time. Where I was incarcerated, the limit was ten books per inmate. If you had more than that, you had to mail them home or donate them to the prison library before you could get more titles.

When I was in prison, I read a lot of books. I was in prison so long that I read both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand from beginning to end. Both of those books are well over 1,000 pages. And, the crazy thing is, I read both of those books in just a couple of months because I was always so bored.

Access to books has been proven to play a huge role in intimate rehabilitation. Prison literacy programs have been shown to improve inmate behavior and lead to lower recidivism rates. But, the most important thing is that books can offer the same sense of hope and connection to incarcerated readers as they offer to all readers in the free world. 

Do you think there should be strict rules about books in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


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