[Today, AD sent me this exchange, which is excerpted from a prison library listserv to which she belongs. Some folks seem to think that if ‘Studies show…’ a thing, then and only then can they believe that thing….]
One Librarian started it off:
This is a question being pondered by my institution’s Administration. Allegedly, there have been some inmates (very problematic, prone to violence) who appear to be acting out [towards staff] certain scenes from Urban Lit books that are later found in their cells. While the connection between what is read and what is acted out has not, to my knowledge, been proven…the suspicion is there. Has another facility experienced this or heard of such a connection?
Here in _____________, we are a moderate size county jail and also function using the public library model and have two branches with professional library staff. We are not part of a library system but partner frequently with the public library. We do offer extensive legal reference service in addition to leisure reading and programs. I don’t think urban lit. contributes to the violence per se. I suspect most of plots are not really new information for the perpetrators (personal opinion not based on research). Another question in Pandora’s box… Does urban lit promote violence in the community??
Which elicited this reply:
If we’re going to espouse that reading classic, motivational, self-help and re-entry books can improve people, I think we have to accept that reading violent books can cause people to be violent.
But the book doesn’t “do” anything; credit and fault lie not in the book, but in the person. The reader must seek to copy or change. Let’s face it, it’s easier to throw out a book that is perceived to be “bad” than it is to follow due process to hold someone accountable for his/her behavior.
But blaming the book is just another form of censorship. I’ve always felt it’s part of my job to advocate for all books and recommend that individuals be dealt with on an individual basis.
And then — at least to my mind — some common sense:
O.K. I’ll fire the first round. The argument goes like this: “Guns don’t kill–People kill.” Make guns available to the criminal who has used them in the past, but hold him accountable if he does more than hold it? But wait, there is no second amendment rights in prison, no uncensored right to association. Yet somehow we think that it’s 100% right for prisoners to read anything printed, because that will secure the blessings of liberty to everyone else? Where is this coming from?
Is the imprisonment of one the imprisonment of us all? Then do away with prisons, problem solved.
The question really is: Do first amendment rights make sense as good correctional theory?
It is excellent public library theory for free people in a free society to have free access to anything they want to read (or shoot). But regarding criminals, could it be that librarians have bought into the idea that any attempt at rehabilitation is to be considered “forced therapy,” and public safety be damned? Have librarians turned against the very concept of “bibliotherapy”? Is the purpose of books in prison primarily to entertain — with vocabulary building as a bonus?
Is it not ridiculous to assert that true crime novels that describe the mutilation of women and rape of children should be allowed because newspapers also contain “true crime”? Maybe someone thinks that since there are no women or children in prison, that it is harmless [for rapists and molesters] to relish their rape in a work of fiction?
Librarians in corrections should consider the correctional theory their collection development policy is based upon.
I recommend a book called Correctional Theory, Context and Consequences by Francis T. Cullen & Cheryl Jonson, Sage Press, 2010. It is only 215 pages long and contains a history of six correctional theories summarized as the following- Just Desserts, Deterrence, Incapacitation, Restorative Justice, Rehabilitation and Early Intervention. I agree with the findings by researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium that reading has an impact upon the reader, especially fiction.
If you do not believe there is such a thing as a “criminal mind” containing “thinking errors” that result in choices to destroy others and pose a danger to the public, then you will resist any criminal theory because you will not believe “criminals” exist that need rehabilitation in order to protect the public.
I don’t know why common sense is no longer invoked when a controversial subject is being considered by intelligent, educated people. I think, perhaps, that our intelligence and education gets in the way.
Here’s the way I see this — If what we read or what we view or what we hear did NOT influence our behavior, then the multi-trillion dollar advertising industry wouldn’t exist. But it does. And it continues to make a lot of money for those who earn their living manipulating the behavior of others through advertising. And the reason that it does is because those ladies and gentlemen who work for it know unequivocally that the behavior of people watching or listening to their ads can indeed be manipulated. The studies and science already exist to prove that, but that’s not my point. Watch the buying behavior of friends, family, and yourself after watching commercials, or being exposed to internet, radio or print ads. It affects you. It manipulates you.
This happens to be an election year. Pay attention to the ads you’re being shown, as well as the astronomical cost of those ads. Football fan? Three words: Super Bowl ads.
We have to be courageous enough — sensible enough — to admit openly that what prisoners read and view in the libraries of our nation’s prisons and jails certainly, unequivocally affects their thinking and behavior. It cannot be otherwise. And you don’t require academic studies to prove this. Common sense will suffice.
But don’t just take my word for it. Pay attention to the type of material that prisoners choose to read.