Prison Family Bill of Rights

Now that we’ve looked at children’s rights with a parent in the PIC, what about rights of the family?

The blog Razer Wire Women reports on the Prison Family Bill of Rights after attending the2012 National Prisoner’s Family Conference. Their blog post is essential in this conversation.

First of all, how do they identify family?

The term “Prison Family” is herein defined as including, but not limited to, a blood or adopted relation, spouse, domestic partner and/or trusted friend designated by an incarcerated person upon or during a period of confinement as one who will serve as an outside contact on his or her behalf for the relaying of any communication regarding the medical and mental health, security status and location of the incarcerated person and/or for making critical decisions on behalf of the incarcerated person in the event of his or her incapacitation..

What are the rights that prison families have?

The Prison Family has the right to be treated with respect and dignity by any and all representatives of the prison system at all times.

The Prison Family has the right to expect and be assured the utmost care is established and maintained to provide a healthy and safe living environment that promotes effective rehabilitation, reintegration and parole planning throughout a loved one’s incarceration.

The Prison Family has the right to be treated and integrated as a positive resource in the process of rehabilitation and reintegration preparation and parole planning of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and policies affecting a loved one’s incarceration.

The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and/or policies affecting visitation and/or all forms of communication with an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed in a timely, clear, forthright and respectful manner of any changes in rules; regulations and/or policies affecting visitation and/or communication with an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours and in a compassionate manner regarding the illness; injury and/or death of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to extended visitation during the hospitalization of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours of the security status change and/or transfer of an incarcerated loved one to a new facility.

The Prison Family has the right to be provided specific written and evidenced-based reasons for a loved one’s
security status change; clemency denial and/or parole denial.

The Prison Family has the right to have their incarcerated loved one housed within a distance from their permanent address that provides reasonable access for visitation and/or to facilitate serving as a resource in the rehabilitation and reintegration  preparation and parole planning of their incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be provided the current specific name or names and direct phone numbers of prison officials to contact for questions about their incarcerated loved one.

(Their blog emerged after the printing of their book, which looks to be one to add to your ever growing ‘to read’ list,: Razor wire women : prisoners, activists, scholars, and artists.)

Do these family bill of rights have anything to do with prison librarianship, especially since the library serves the family member that is imprisoned? Heck yeah! Prison librarians can foster programing that supports family on the outside, similar to the Children of Incarcerated Parents – A Bill of Rights#8:  I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

For example, programs that offer parents to have story time in person or via distance by audio recording or video with their child is an example of a practice attempting to maintain a healthy family communication and closeness while one is not at home. Below is a news channel’s video that will give you somewhat of a feel about story-time programs.

Resources Benefiting Families/Re-entry Benefiting Families provides more than just this program to maintain and foster parent and family relationships, which are not library-focused. For example, other programs include the Marriages That Matter program, life skills for offenders and their family members too, and a Fatherhood Initiative.

Additional Resource:

Travis, Jeremy and Michelle Waul, eds. Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 2003.

This is part of a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

My Mom/Dad is in Prison: Children’s Rights and Information Needs

Beyond seeing people behind bars as a special patron group with specific information needs, children with parents behind bars also need to be seen as a patron group to supply information needs to and specifically  included in collection development.

To learn more about what happens to children when their parents enter the Prison Industrial Complex, you can read the Urban Institute’s report Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry

Children with parents in prison have their own bill of rights entitled:

Children of Incarcerated Parents – A Bill of Rights.

  1. I have the right to be kept safe and informed at the time of my parent’s arrest.
  2. I have the right to be heard when decisions are made about me.
  3. I have the right to be considered when decisions are made about my parent.
  4. I have the right to be well cared for in my parent’s absence.
  5. I have the right to speak with, see and touch my parent.
  6. I have the right to support as I struggle with my parent’s incarceration.
  7. I have the right not to be judged, blamed or labeled because of my parent’s incarceration.
  8. I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

The San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents have an extended pdf that explores each one of these rights, gives next steps to achieve these rights, and personal stories.

Remember Reading Rainbow? They featured this episode, Visiting Day, focused on families with a parent in prison in their series. It aired December 15, 2004 and January 17, 2005. Watch below!

I once read that the child of a parent behind bars copes similar to that of a child who lost a parent through death. Therefor, the reading experience, like bibliotherapy, can create a dialogue where coping can begin. Now, what books are there? You can find book lists at ALA’s Association for Library Service for Children which organizes book by age group… or here, here, here, and here!

Here are some more sources:

S & F Online by Barnard Center for Research on Women: 8.2 (Spring 2010) Children of Incarcerated Parents 

National Conference of State Legislatures’ Children of Incarcerated Parents

National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated

This is part of a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Check out my guest blog post!

I had the honor to write my first guest blog post!

Check out the piece The Transformative Power of Urban Literature at Changing Lives, Changing Minds.

What CLTL does:

In Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) programs, criminal offenders with charges ranging from drug violations to assault with a deadly weapon read and discuss literature as a condition of their probation. During a typical class, students unite around a table with a professor, judge, and probation officer to engage with literature centered on themes of violence, poverty, identity, and abuse.

They also have a website.

Prisoners’ Right to Read

Do people behind bars have the right to read? The American Library Association believes so. On June 29, 2010, the Prisoners’ Right to Read was adopted by the ALA Council as an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights.

Q: Why is reading vital in the Prison Industrial Complex?
A: The ALA says “The right to choose what to read is deeply important, and the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society” (ALA).

Below is the main points in the adopted Prisoners’ Rights to Read:

These principles should guide all library services provided to prisoners:

  • Collection management should be governed by written policy, mutually agreed upon by librarians and correctional agency administrators, in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, its Interpretations, and other ALA intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional libraries should have written procedures for addressing challenges to library materials, including a policy-based description of the disqualifying features, in accordance with “Challenged Materials” and other relevant intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional librarians should select materials that reflect the demographic composition, information needs, interests, and diverse cultural values of the confined communities they serve.
  • Correctional librarians should be allowed to purchase materials that meet written selection criteria and provide for the multi-faceted needs of their populations without prior correctional agency review. They should be allowed to acquire materials from a wide range of sources in order to ensure a broad and diverse collection. Correctional librarians should not be limited to purchasing from a list of approved materials.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors.”
  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.
  • Material with sexual content should not be banned unless it violates state and federal law.
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet. (ALA)

Are there other prisoners’ rights to consider? And what does the PIC think about this rights that are not necessarily seen the actual law? This week and the following we will explore some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons.

ALA. Prisoners’ Right to Read. ALA.

The following are the rest of the blog posts in my exploration on prisoners’ rights that affect them as patrons:

Recommended Readings from Prison Law Blog

I’m taking the week off for some self-care after finishing my first year of my program (yea!). I’ve bookmarked this post, so I though I would share. Here is the Prison Law blog’s post on some Sunday readings. I’m looking forward to being able to read some of these for sure!

Prison Law Blog

Here’s a roundup of some recent scholarship and online commentary about prison-related issues:

Also, via Doug Berman, I noticed that the Yale Law Journal is running a prison law writing contest. If you are or have been in prison or jail, you may be eligible to enter.

A programming note: the blog has been slow this spring. This has been…

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Words from Past Prison Librarians: Brenda Vogel

Here we continue our journey on looking into the perspectives of retired prison librarians. We previously looked at Frances Saniford and  Glennor Shirley. Our final retired librarian we will look at is Brenda Vogel.

Brenda Vogel, famous in the prison library world for Down for the Count: A Prison Library Handbook and The Prison Library Primer: A Program for the Twenty-First Century, was the coordinator of Maryland Correctional Education Libraries for 26 years.

Vogel calls the prison library “[a] curious mismatch, a triumph of good over evil, when it works” (xiii).

In “A Retired Prison Librarian’s Dream,” Vogel tells us that she still dreams about prison libraries, [l]ike a cigarette smoker who quits, not because you want to but because it’s time, you never get it out of your head” (xi).

In this piece, I like Vogel’s perspective on highly stolen books, partly because most of the dialogue is either to not stock the highly thefted books anymore or that it happens, so get over it:

Did you ever think of buying multiple copies of them so reading them wouldn’t be exclusive? So their value in the ‘marketplace’ would go down? [….] What if you had a procedure that would keep books from being stolen – like random shake-down of patrons by a CO as they left the library? The officer can check to see if the book is date-stamped. (xii)

Vogel offers a piece of advise before readers move from her retired librarians’ dream into her book, The Prison Library Primer:

And it only works under the heroic leadership of a librarian who is passionate, imaginative, cunning, conniving, creative, and convincing, a librarian who knows the course and stays the course and who keeps the library true to form in sight of the madness, corruption, and cynicism of the environment. (xiii)


Vogel, Brenda. The Prison Library Primer: A Program for the Twenty-First Century. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

  • You can find a large portion of this book on Google Books.

Words from Past Prison Librarians: Glennor Shirley

Here we continue our journey on looking into the perspectives of retired prison librarians. We previous looked at Frances Saniford and now we move to Glennor Shirley.

Shirley retired in September 2011 after being a  prison librarian in Maryland for over 20 years. She has a popular blog that she still writes for called Prison Librarian.

After coming to Maryland from Jamaica in 1980, where she was also a librarian, Shirley began her work in the prison library as a part-time night job to make ends meet; this job eventually turned into her career, which she considers a “happy accident” (Haldeman). She states , “I am basically a person who believes in justice and what is right. I saw these needs behind bars” (Rosenwald “Glennor”).

Shirley claims “that her time as a prison librarian has been the most rewarding portion of her career” (Haldeman).

Why should non-imprisoned support prison libraries and reading behind bars? Shirley was not foreign to this question: “She was often asked why taxpayer money should be used to make a prisoner’s life more rewarding. Her standard answer: She wants to help them become taxpayers again. Without an education, she’d say, that’s impossible” (Rosenwald “Maryland’s”).

A card from one of her patrons from the day Shirley retired:

With deepest thanks and gratitude on your retirement from decades of advocacy on behalf of tens of thousands of Maryland prisoners. We will forever miss your enthusiasm of library services and especially your gorgeous smile. (Rosenwald “Maryland’s”)


Haldeman, Annette, ed. “Glennor Shirley Retires.” The Crab: A Quarterly Publication of the Maryland Library Association. 42.2 (Winter 2012). 23-4.

  • If you follow the link to find a list of her writing on page 24.

Rosenwald, Michael. “Glennor Shirley, head librarian for Md. prisons, believes in books behind bars.” Washington Post 25 May 2011.

  • If you follow this link, you can also watch a video of Shirley speak.

Rosenwald, Michael. “Maryland’s beloved prison librarian retires.” Washington Post 9 Sept. 2011.