Resource for prisoners’ rights

Found a resource today that follows up our look at the rights of prisoners as patrons.

Find Law’s Prisoner Rights & Resources

They provide links to national sources to prisoners and their rights.

It does not focus specifically on the prison library and is sponsored by Find Law’s commercial site.

Guantanamo Bay – Patrons’ Rights

Guantanamo Bay. This facility is considered illegal to some and to others a necessity. It may come as a surprise to some that they have a library.

Guantanamo's library

How are prisoners’ rights different in this facility compared to other facilities? The answer is that “The US military says the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have no legal rights under American law” (Guantanamo Bay Library). While the reigning law is that prisoners have no rights, several organizations do not agree.

The ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table adopted the following resolution on Guantanamo in 2008:

… therefor it be RESOLVED, that the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association
1. calls on the President of the United States to begin the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba;
2. strongly urges that, until such time that the prison is closed, all prisoners shall immediately be afforded the right to read and supplied with materials enabling them to do so by the United States Department of Defense and its libraries; and
3. recognizes that all people imprisoned as a result of the belligerent acts of the United States and other warring entities be afforded with all rights described by the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and any other rules of law pertaining to the humane treatment of prisoners.

The full resolution can be found in their newsletter archives.

For a further glimpse into this institution’s rules of prisoner communication to the outside world….

Prisoners wrote poems and sent them to their pro bono lawyer, Marc Falkoff, because it was the only communication they were allowed. Falkoff found himself with a collection of work from his clients and had a selection of these poems approved by the Pentagon (each line needed to get an okay) to be published in Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

Death Poem by Jumah al Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the “protectors or peace.”

This institution’s library work is intriguing. In the next week or so, I’ll post more about Guantanamo and it’s library.


Falkoff, Marc. Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. Iowa City: Iowa City Press, 2007.

Guantanamo Bay’s Library. Aug. 26, 2009. PRI’s The World.

Resolution on Guantanamo & the Rights of Prisoners to Read

This is post is the last in a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Prisoners’ Rights to Legal Material

I was under the assumption that people behind bars did not necessarily have the right to a library, but did have rights to legal material to help represent themselves in their case.

A Library Science classmate of mine, who also  also has her law degree, enlightened me about some legal material after I told her about what I saw at the jail library I volunteer at. What I saw was the contents of the jail law library was 2 multi-volumed book sets that were HUGE; to use these books, you have to request to see them and they cannot be checked out. My classmate told me that 1. they are bad law books, just like regular books and 2. law books like these contain just the law, nothing else.

The organization that I volunteer with is not allowed to bring in legal material because of the collection that already exists. If these huge books are slightly bad or incomprehensible how is being able to be with these books true access if you cannot understand them? So, in this case there are no how-to-interpret-the-law books to aid prisoners.

So, what are prisoners rights to legal material?

Author of Prison Libraries in Wikipedia pulls the following information out of the 2011 Library Trends that focuses on Prison Librarianship and the Law Library Journal:

In addition, in 1977, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), ruled that prisons were required to provide access to people trained in law or law library collections in order to meet the constitutional requirement of meaningful access to the courts. In 1996, Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 804 (1996), limited the requirement placed on correctional facilities. Following Lewis many libraries reduced their collections.[2]

Lewis v. Casey ruled that prisoners do not have an absolute right to a law library. Rather an inmate must show that he was unable to pursue a legal claim because of the inadequacy of the law library.[6] In other words, lack of an adequate law library caused the inmate actual injury. The ruling in Lewis makes it much more difficult to seek improvement to a prison’s law library. As one court pointed out, the ability to litigate a claim of denial of access demonstrates that the inmate has no denial of access.[7] However, some believe that Lewis is not as devastating as it appears to be and Bounds v. Smith still remains good law.

Even if a person behind bars is allowed access to legal material, who decides how much time is adequate and how long a wait should be for trial when a prisoner is providing their own defense?

In a recent article, Suspect in 2010 Branford murder claims limited access to prison library not enough to prepare his own legal defensehow much time Dr. Lishan Wang is allowed to use legal material to defend himself (with LaPierre as a standby defender) is the issue:

“I didn’t know until today that it was just one hour,” LaPierre said. “It’s not enough time to prepare for his defense. I will pursue that issue (with Murphy). He should have enough access giving him sufficient time to prepare his case.”

“On that schedule,” LaPierre said of the current access, “it would take a long time for him to prepare.”

Trying to understand legal material and prisoner’s rights to the material is too much for me to comprehend in just one blog post! I am frankly glad that someone well versed shared their knowledge in Wikipedia. This is a subject that needs more time to explore and understand.


AALL – – American Association of Law Libraries – Search for “prisons” to see some of their content on prison law librarianship and issues similar to Out of Bounds.

Prison Libraries Wikipedia Page

Suspect in 2010 Branford murder claims limited access to prison library not enough to prepare his own legal defense.

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

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:

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: