What Solitary Confinement Does to the Brain

What Solitary Confinement Does to the Brain.

This article is necessary for librarians, educators, cases workers, and officers to read as we discuss the best services for those incarcerated, especially those in solitary confinement (often called segregation).

While at the book club I facilitate inside of a prison, some of the men stated that it was only in segregation did they read certain books, especially book series where you could spend an longer time with a set of characters and an on going plot.

We must prepare those incarcerated for being released with the skills we need. We must also meet the immediate needs of incarcerated patrons. As librarians we must provide the best services to our patrons that cannot physically come into the library. Patrons in segregation cannot be the exception.

When prisoners leave solitary confinement and re-enter society — something that often happens with no transition period — their symptoms might abate, but they’re unable to adjust. “I’ve called this the decimation of life skills,” said Kupers. “It destroys one’s capacity to relate socially, to work, to play, to hold a job or enjoy life.”…

Explaining why isolation is so damaging is complicated, but can be distilled to basic human needs for social interaction and sensory stimulation, along with a lack of the social reinforcement that prevents everyday concerns from snowballing into pychoses, said Kupers.

Increased Access to the Law Library: 1 of many demands from the 29,000+ CA inmates on hunger strike

While solitary confinement is the focus of California’s hunger strike by inmates, access to the law library is among other demands:

law library demands

The list of demands can be seen on the LA Times website here. Read about the hunger strike in the LA Times’ article 29,000 California Prison Inmates Refuse Meals in 2nd Day of Protest.

Youth imprisoned at Green Hill prison are joining the hunger strike with their own demands. You can view their full list of demands here. Below are a few library specific demands:

3. EDUCATION: Provide relevant and specialized educational programs to all residents even after they have graduated from High School. These could include cosmetology, music/multimedia production, library access, law training, culinary arts, and more. There are plenty of rooms that are currently not being used for anything but storage. They should be used.

4. LEGAL ACCESS: Access to updated legal material, updated each year. This should include: A well-stocked law library in the school available to all, updated regularly. Books and resources available at anytime. Access to internet sites with relevant legal material available at all times. Access to resources detailing available legal counsel. Copies of JRA/DOC employee policy handbooks in every single wing for residents to read. These must be updated each year.

10. FREEDOM OF SPEECH: The 1st amendment must be respected in JRA/DOC facilities. We have a right to speak our mind and express ourselves with whatever language we choose as long it does not threaten others. We must also be free to organize without punishment.

If you are interested in following the hunger strike, here are two specific blogs to the strike:



Rethinking PIC Librarianship after Michelle Alexander


This week Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, came to campus.

As she explained her book’s thesis, it made me consider how prison librarian could be more aware of how we can better support our patrons trying to survive the PIC.

But as a correctional employee, prison librarians live, breathe, and work within the myths of incarcerated persons and the effectiveness of the PIC. So, how can we balance the PIC and providing library services that needs to satisfy the two extremely different world views of the PIC administration and those who are incarcerated?

How can we provide programming that offers support to patrons when being honest about the PIC can be seen as threatening to administration and guards and could put our positions in jeopardy?

In my short experience of being within the PIC, I feel that there is a lot of heavy communication for staff to view people behind bars as lazy, not to be trusted, and other stereotypes.

Michelle suggested that we need to embrace those who are incarcerated as their genuine selves, not solely based on the behavior that the criminal justice system deemed appropriate for incarceration. She continued to assert that the PIC operates with the core belief that some of us are not worthy of genuine concern, care, and compassion. In comparison to the PIC, we need an approach that cares for the victim for the victim, offender, and community. The idea of care is extremely drastic when we realize that shame and blame is placed on communities and individuals for incarceration.

I was able to briefly speak about this with Michelle afterwards. Though I didn’t have a specific question for her, she told me that being inside of the PIC, you have to try to navigate as much as you are able to in order to provide the service that is envisioned. It is important,  she stressed, to treat those behind bars with dignity. As librarians in training, we often think that we always treat patrons with respect and dignity, but within the PIC having to stress this shows how the institution operates.

Welcome to the Arctic: Drug Tests, Catalogs, & Winter Coats

Last week was exciting as I made two trips to a nearby prison in preparation to gain clearance to spend my practicum with the Education Justice Project.

The first of my two days was the formalities of being welcomed to a correctional facility, but I was able to see more of the facility than I had at the EJP’s open house. We saw the medical building, the outside the industry building, etc. We were shown around by the Chaplin, who I asked as many possible questions as we were being processed for finger prints & more to gain our final approval.

When asked what he liked about his job, he spoke about making a difference; when asked about the biggest challenge, he discussed not having enough time to accomplish all he wanted to. I was surprised to find out that his duties included collecting and maintaining numerous library collections: one of each major religion (Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and I believe one more) as well as a collection for a bible school that began teaching classes.

The following day I was able to see most of his collection as well as be in my first general population prison library (unlike the EJP’s library which is only for their students). The general library was by chance open when we were there for law research. It was busy! Patrons were filling out forms, looking at law books, library workers were busy helping others and putting books away, and the counselor (who is the interim-librarian) was helping a handful of patrons with their questions. The interim-librarian showed us around briefly and as he had to assist patrons, a library worker showed us how to check out books, what patrons were currently working on, what his role is at the library, and… his homemade sign welcoming patrons to the arctic, for the heat was being replaced and almost everyone was in the gloves!

My primary reason for visiting was to spend time with the EJP’s library manager to discuss what I could potentially do to help out in their library with their library workers.

I was able to show her the catalog I began working on in Microsoft Access to help their collection be searchable on computers with the restriction of having no Internet access. Their current system is using Microsoft Excel and primarily printed out copies of the catalog sorted by title, author, and subject headings. Below are some screen shots of my work in progress (1st picture of searching page, 2nd of data entry):



While discussing the potential new catalog, I was shown the library workers’ list of their own subject headings they want to use that is more friendly to them than the Library of Congress’ subject headings. Sandy Bergman would be proud!

By the end of our visit, we decided that for my practicum I will assist in:

1.) Library instruction- will provided to each of the six classes within the spring semester for patrons to become familiar with resources & searching

2.) Create & maintain subject guides – create to support classes & popular topics

3.) Catalog support – help set realistic goal, assist in software research & recommendation (including making a catalog in Access); recommend how to catalog items that are not the traditional book

4.) Assist in making the space & collection more user friendly

5.) Documentation & training – documentation will be written for all essential library functions & library workers will assist in library instruction, subject guide creation, etc. for skill building

I’m very excited to continue working with the EJP, their library, and being able to work with their library workers… I can’t wait!

Law Library Requirements and Access for Isolated Patrons

As a non-law fluent person, this was the best resource to understand what the law says about legal libraries in prisons. If you are looking for the same information. This should be your first stop! Sources are so abundant that the notes on each page of this book are more than half of the page which includes further information such as cases and laws with quoted text.

I’m not really comfortable to talk about what the law is right now, but what I found interesting that could apply to non-legal libraries is the following quote:

Courts understand that a “cell delivery” or “paging” system, by itself, does not provide adequate court access because prisoners who cannot visit the library generally will not know what materials to ask for. If prison officials do permit segregation inmates to have physical access to the law library, that access must be adequate. (242)

This might make us rethink how delivery services to hospital and mental health (and other) locations in the prison system might be improved for better access. For example, bringing a cart full of books might be better suited in addition to books requested from patrons instead of just the requested reads.


Boston, John and Daniel Manville. Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.