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5 Things to know about prison and jail libraries

Libraries can be an important way for prisoners to access legal and non-legal reading materials. Below are some things to know:

  1. Not all provincial jails have libraries. In provincial jails where there is a library, prisoners generally get weekly access to reading materials at a particular location or through library parades. If there is no library program, prisoners can submit request forms to ask for particular books or special reading materials. If the request is related to a ground protected by the Human Rights Code, that should be highlighted (for example, if a prisoner requires a book in braille or in a particular language).
  2. Federal prisoners are entitled to reasonable access to legal and non-legal reading materials, but they may or may not have access to a library. Many prisoners have access to a library, but some may not. Library hours can also be sporadic and ad hoc, as there may not be a staff present full-time. Regardless, Wardens are to ensure that all prisoners have “reasonable access”, and prisoners who require certain materials can submit inmate request forms.
  3. In provincial jails, prisoners have access to some newspapers and magazines. These can be purchased through the canteen. If a prisoner wants a newspaper or magazine that is unavailable at the canteen, then a family member or friend may be allowed to subscribe and pay for it to be directly sent to the jail. However, the Superintendent must first approve the subscription, and prisoners will not be allowed to receive materials until they have been approved.
  4. Libraries in federal prisons are supposed to contain a wide range of materials, but selection may in fact be limited. Libraries are supposed to contain materials that support institutional programming, employment, social/ethnic/cultural development, legal research, and personal enrichment. The selection varies from prison to prison, but in general there should be copies of certain materials, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Corrections and Conditional Release Act and Regulations, Commissioner’s Directives, Security Reclassification Scale scoring matrix, Parole Board of Canada Policy Manual, and reports by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. These may not always be available though or up-to-date, and some documents may only be available on CD-ROMs.
  5. Some federal prison libraries contain computers to allow prisoners to type up and print documents. Prisoners have to pay the cost of printing and, where available, faxing documents. Given the often limited and ad hoc hours, it may be challenging for prisoners to prepare lengthy documents on these computers.
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