Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Prospects and Challenges of Prison Libraries in Ghana: A Case Study of the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Prospects and Challenges of Prison Libraries in Ghana: A Case Study of the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons

Article excerpt


Human societies at all times have had some of her members deviate from the generally acceptable social norms. Such deviants are often referred to as criminals in many national laws. Many of these criminals are subjected to various measures intended to punish and/or reform them. Some of these measures include payment of fines, banishment, corporal and capital punishment, community service and the much popular imprisonment. Imprisonment has gradually replaced the much cruel forms of such measures like banishment, corporal and capital punishment over the last few centuries. Criminals who are treated by any of these measures are normally confined with the intention to reform and rehabilitate them to conform to the standards and expectations of the society. It is therefore no surprise that such institutions of confinements are now referred to, in contemporary parlance, as correctional institutions.

Every community of people requires information for decision-making and quality of life, so the prison inmate also has a need to good quality information. Campbell (2005) writes that prisoners need to know how to survive and how they might get out. To survive, they need to know who is trustworthy, what will make the prison society accept them and what rights to humane treatment they have. To get out they need to know the law and what they can do with their lives when free.

Access is the permission and opportunity to use a document in print or non-print media (Prytherch, 1987). According to Vickery and Vickery (1987), there is an initial impression that the proliferation of publications, libraries and the mass of information centers would ensure recorded information is available to everyone. They add that even in the free world, not everyone in need of information has the same chance of receiving it. Confined persons like prisoners face challenges like fear, inability to identify an appropriate source; inadequate knowledge of what the library has to offer and who can be approached for it; and psychological reluctance to ask for information for fear of any further punishment. They posit further that prisoners generally have low level of education and this inform their decision to use a library service.

The Historical Development of Prison Libraries

Prisons were first established to banish and confine the offender, subjecting him or her to hard labour. While in prison, reading was confined to the Bible and similar religious material aimed at inculcating morality and the guardian of this genre was the prison chaplain, whose responsibility was to assure the reader's penitence (Shirley, 2003). According to Agboyi (1989) the growth and development of prison libraries is as old as the prison institution itself. But it is difficult to date exactly the genesis of prison libraries. Earlier records indicate that the Philadelphia Prison Society in the United States played a significant role in this direction as they provided books to the Walnut Street Jail in the 1790's. It was however until the 1840's that concrete steps were taken to extend the frontiers of prison libraries.

Saunders (1966) reports that prison library services in the United Kingdom were very closely linked to the concepts of education and reformation of that era. After the Prison Act of 1877, attention was given to prisoners' education and basic instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. Shirley (2003) adds that further developments were fuelled by the American Library Association (ALA), The American Correctional Association (ACA) and the American Prison Association (APA) as they spearheaded the developing of standards for new and improved library services in prisons resulting in publications like the Prison Library Handbook (1932) primarily aimed at "moral therapy". In 1911, the ALA's Committee on Libraries in Federal Prisons moved for the provision of library services in all prisons, an action that brought tremendous growth in the development of prison libraries in the United States. …

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