20 April 2009

Juvenile Detention Centers

I have been working on a group project for another class that involves storytelling and juveniles in correctional institutions. As I did research for the project, I found an appallingly short supply of information for providing library services to incarcerated youth; most articles and studies focus on adults.
While on the surface this doesn't seem like an issue, it is. Adult library users have very different needs than those of children and young adults. There isn't a one size fits all model in public libraries, so why should it be different for correctional libraries? Do we not care to provide for this segment of the population who are already marginalized? It is really upsetting to consider the opportunities lost by not providing adequate library services to these youth.
As part of the project, we created a mock storytelling program for juvenile inmates. As I did some research, I learned about the many challenges that face librarians in detention centers and other juvenile correctional facilities. Lack of belief in the necessity of a library, lack of funding, and misunderstanding the population are issues that cannot be changed quickly. What is most distressing is to learn how much disservice is being done to these youth. It is common for inmates to have learning disabilities. They are often illiterate in print media or barely functioning literates. So what does that have to do with media literacy?
I know it's a bit of a jump to go from illiterate to wholly (including media) literate, but at the same time, I feel that most of the individuals in detention centers probably had some interactions with media, and maybe more interaction with media (TVs, computers, radios, etc.) than with printed materials such as books. I also feel that if we are truly going to help these children and young adults, we need to teach them new skills that will allow them to find a productive place within society, and perhaps remove themselves from old patterns. And, teaching media literacy can coincide with teaching inmates reading, writing, and comprehension.
I would really encourage others to learn about library services to the incarcerated. While the focus of this class is on media literacy and young adults, many incarcerated adults also lack the skills necessary to be considered media literate. Often, and especially for those who have been incarcerated for many years, the world is a completely different place than it was when they went into prison. Even for people on the outside, the world of media is constantly changing. You Tube, social networking sites, texting, IMing- all of these concepts are pretty new and often times intimidating to those being released. It is our duty as librarians and as citizens to be aware of the needs of this unique population, and to be proactive in helping them.

Sources that provide some basic information:
Chesseman, Margaret. “Library Services to Young People and Children in Correctional Facilities.” Library Trends. 26.1 (summer 1977): 125-139.
(A bit dated, I know, but still an interesting read)

Rubin, Rhea Joyce & Daniel Suvak, eds. Libraries Inside: A Practical Guide for Prison Librarians. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. 1995.

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