The Three R’s Project: Reading Reduces Recidivism

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THE ACT OF READING IS A UNIQUELY human skill and can be
transformative as well as entertaining. With this in mind, a
relatively new group is seeking to provide reading materials
to Illinois prison circulation libraries. The goals are to
organize groups of volunteers who will “adopt” a prison
library and collect books for the circulation library they
have adopted; as well as to advocate for better prison
libraries. The new group, identified as the Three R’s Project:
Reading Reduces Recidivism, is in the process of
pulling together volunteers in several areas of the state.
Currently Three R’s is working on building chapters in Effingham
for Robinson Correctional Center (C.C.), in
Springfield for Taylorville C.C. and in Oak Park/River Forest
/Chicago for Stateveille/Sheridan C.C. The groups in
these towns are committed to locating donated books for
the specific needs of the libraries of their adopted prison
and getting the books there. If you have an interest in participating
in this effort to nurture the prison libraries in
Illinois, please contact us through the website at Books to
Prisoners, We are especially
interested in volunteers to join the three groups currently
forming but would be glad to hear from anyone interested,
regardless of location. The Carbondale area is the next part
of Illinois that Three R’s plans to focus on, locating individuals
to organize a group to support circulation libraries
in the southern part of our state.
The Illinois Department of Corrections gave their welcome
to this effort at a meeting on August 27, 2010 when
IDOC leaders met with three representatives from Three
R’s: Sarah Ross, Barbara Kessel and Judith Pond.
The Three R’s project grew out of a survey of 27 prison
circulation libraries in Illinois, indicating prison libraries
have experienced significant cuts in staff and materials
over the last seven years. Illinois allocates over $1.3 billion
annually for prisons. Despite this huge budget, seven
prison circulation libraries have been closed and many
others have reduced staff and hours. Since 2002, circulation
libraries in Illinois prisons have not had a budget line
to purchase any new materials: books, magazine subscriptions,
newspapers, or even mending tape. It should be
noted that while Illinois State Law mandates that prisoners
have access to law libraries, no such protection is provided
for circulation libraries. As there is such a strong connection
between any kind of literacy program and a reduction
in the number of people who return to prison after discharge,
it is difficult to understand the cuts to circulation
libraries. This is especially true as access to books provides
such a cost efficient tool to reduce recidivism.
Currently, members from the Urbana-Champaign
Books to Prisoners program have taken the lead in the
Three R’s Project, but other supporting organizations
include The Interfaith Alliance of Champaign-Urbana,
Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, First Mennonite Church,
McKinley Social Action Committee, Urbana-Champaign
Friends Meeting, Volunteer Illini Project, Statesville Speaks
(a prison newspaper), and Youth Advocate Programs,
Adult Division, Chicago.

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