Spending on prisoners is a touchy subject.
In a climate where public funds are limited and every dollar stretched to the limit, better facilities for corrective services often fall to the bottom of public shopping list.
However, although it may appeal to the public, is directing funds away from prisonerâ€™s education and rehabilitation costing us more in the long run? Can investing in a library help close a prison?
Prisons comprise an over-representation of Indigenous Australians, people suffering from mental illness, people with substance use problems, low literacy and those with a history of childhood of childhood or domestic abuse.
Overwhelming, studies on the subject affirm the value of quality library services for education, recreation and rehabilitation of offenders. Overseas research points to a reduction in returning to prison with a great financial saving to the community attributed to improved literacy both basic and digital.
The current Commonwealth requirement for correctional facilities specifies that every prison should have a library, however at present there is no minimum standard for what services or resources the library should offer.
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have attempted to solve this by setting guidelines for what is needed to provide effective library services in prisons. However anecdotal reports indicate uptake has been slow, and public information on prison libraries is limited.
Investigating whether this is being implemented is the focus of a new Australian study by HOA Librarian Deborah Fuller. Her study aimed to highlight the opportunities that exist to improve libraries within correctional facilities to help offenders re-integrate into the community.
“One of the severe difficulties faced by prisoners is that they have restricted computer access and all internet access is banned.” she said.
With so many of today’s basic resources moving online – Centrelink, Medicare, the NDIS, housing, education and employment – not having computer literacy skills can significantly disadvantage offenders once they leave prison.
“We know that people with low educational and literacy levels are more likely to commit crimes. A well-resourced and professionally staffed library has the potential to reduce rates of re-offending essentially giving these people a new lease on life.”
“Following the ALIA guidelines has the potential to provide a great financial saving to the community along with the other human benefits of reduced crime.”
This article was contributed to News in Mind on 11 September 2017.