Correctional Library Management Glossary

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The overarching principle of being a prison employee is this:


As a prison employee, you must remind yourself of this commonsense fact of correctional work if you ever hope to understand your Department as a whole and your specific function within the prison.

Security comes first, because security must comes first. Your life and safety–and that of your coworkers and patrons–hangs in the balance.



Two correctional concepts that are forever at odds with each other are Deprivation and Socialization.

Which facet is emphasized at any given moment depends on the blowing political winds of the state and of the nation.

Deprivation and Socialization form an uneasy alliance in well-run prisons.

Correctional libraries are firmly rooted in the Socialization side of corrections.



The three general categories of research material found in prison law libraries are:

  1. Primary Sources
  2. Finding Tools; and
  3. Secondary Material



Successful Correctional librarians know that their job description encompasses four ‘-ARIAN’ roles relative to both security and socialization.

These roles are:

  • Security
    • Authoritarian
    • Disciplinarian
  • Socialization
    • Humanitarian
    • Librarian


Four kinds of Primary Source material–material having the force of law–are mandated for every prison law collection:

  1. Administrative Regulations
  2. Case Law
  3. Constitutional Law
  4. Statutory Law



The psychology of prison law library patrons can be grouped under one of five general but programmatically useful labels:

  1. Narcissists
  2. Hustlers
  3. Loop-Holers
  4. Writ-Writers
  5. Lost Souls



Regulations are the subject-specific legal documents governing most aspects of incarcerated life, prison management, and employee conduct.

These regulations are reviewed annually.

Because they have the force of law, these regulations are considered primary sources. They ar usually organized and kept in the law library.

When inmates bring a civil challenge to some condition of their confinement, they frequently rely on the regulatory language of these documents.


One of the important professional roles filled by a correctional librarian.

The Authoritarian recognizes the authority s/he has been granted by the prison, making judicious use of it when dealing with inmates and inmate library patrons.

The Authoritarian must be careful not to allow emotional abuses of power to interfere with the librarianship.



Bibliotherapy is a structured, moderated literature seminar that has as its rehabilitative focus the examination of inmates’ impulses that compel them to criminal acts, and the control of those impulses.

Many bibliotherapy programs offer the student a pro-social consequential thinking model, presented through the examination of tragic-but-avoidable decisions made by protagonists in several works of classic literature. Students are given plot points where these protagonists make bad decisions, and are then asked to develop alternative non-violent solutions, using their consequential thinking model as a guide.

An advanced approach to bibliotherapy uses the examination of character as the focus of study. The course premise is that good character can be learned, and is worth learning. Students study the components of good human character, isolate creatures in a work of classic literature whose character mirrors these components, and then write personality profiles to discover how these creatures use good character to make consistently correct choices.



[Generally] A written opinion handed down by a state or federal appellate court detailing the overall decision made in a case, isolating legal issues and the rulings for each issue.

In legal research, this kind of law is defined as primary source material.

Case law can only be created by the judicial branch of government.


California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation


Some Departments of Correction mandate that their librarians develop training programs for their clerks working in both lending and law libraries. The on-site librarian is responsible for the scheduling and delivery of this training several times annually.

The purpose of the training is to have a staff of competent library clerks, and to maintain a core list of competent inmats eligible for such work.

Other DOCs have subject experts other than the librarian develop one or more of these courses, which the librarian then delivers.


The premise that all action need not be reactive, and that there are working alternatives to impulsive behavior. For many inmates, the very idea of avoiding tragedy by foreseeing bad consequences is a new concept.

Through the examination, memorization, and application of various consequential thinking models, inmates learn to recognize the types of thinking that result in bad or even tragic consequences, and the methods to avoid this destructive thought.


Put concisely: a Correctional librarian is a prison employee having professional expertise in both corrections and library science.

It is no accident that the word ‘Correctional’ is used first in the phrase ‘Correctional librarian.’ Librarians who are successfully employed by corrections know that they are prison employees first, and librarians second.

The security of the institution, the good order of the library, and the safety of the librarian always take precedence over the librarianship.

Unlike public and many other genres of librarianship, the crucial responsibilities of prison employees are:

  • FIRST…..To the DOC’s mission
  • SECOND…..To the good order of their institutions; and
  • THIRD…..To the rehabilitative efforts of the inmates they serve

And ladies and gentlemen, the Correctional librarian is not exempted from these responsibilities. Indeed, it is folly for any librarian in a correctional setting to believe or behave otherwise.



Deprivation is what the general public mean to say when talking about the liberties lost during incarceration. The public mistakenly use the word ‘punishment’ as a euphemism for ‘deprivation’. Some things the incarcerated are deprived of include:

  • Conjugal relations (most DOCs)
  • Freedom of movement
  • Certain reading material
  • Personal property (limited)
  • Choosing mundane things like when to shower or when to eat
  • Choosing their own health care
  • Choosing their own entertainment
  • Limited visitation and limited length of each visit
  • Attending wakes and funerals
  • Visiting loved ones in hospitals
  • Assisting in the day-to-day raising of their children
  • Contacting their wives or husbands whenever they like
  • Fellowship with ‘free world’ friends
  • Et cetera

When taken together, these deprivations equal the court-sanctioned punishment of imprisonment.


One of the important professional roles filled by the correctional librarian.

Discipline is an important facet of the socialization effort, and Correctional librarians must ensure that inmates respect library rules, library patrons, library staff, and the Librarian.

When the Librarian discovers that an inmate has stepped out of line, s/he decides whether to handle the problem informally or to issue a formal Disciplinary Report, based on the severity of the infraction.

Filing Disciplinary Reports is a responsibility given to all correctional librarians, and the Librarian is expected to use this discretionary power when appropriate.


Department of Correction



“Efffective and meaningful access” to the state or federal courts is a concept whose language first appeared in US Supreme Court case law, and has since been echoed in many state jurisdictions.

Put simply, it is not enough for Departments of Correction to offer legal information to their prisoners.

Access to the courts, to be “”effective and meaningful,”” has been held to mean that beyond the information in law libraries, prisoners must also have access to people skilled in legal research techniques, access to legal forms and instruction in their proper filing, and access to certain law library services such as notary public and legal stationery.

This concept is directly related to corrections’ mandate–as directed by the federal judiciary–of not impeding prisoner’s access to the state and federal courts (see UNIMPEDED ACCESS below).



Term used in the CDCR to refer to all noncustodial prison employees.

Custodial employees include administration and correctional officers.

‘Free staff’ refers to program and classification employees. Librarians are considered ‘free staff.’


Also referred to as ‘non-meritorious’ in case law, frivolous law suits are the kind of prisoner complaints that make it onto the 6 o’clock news or on the cover of the local newspaper, and happens when the legal system is abused by the prisoner who is both indigent and vindictive.

Civil suits have been filed over cold eggs, not receiving a certain brand of tennis shoe, not being permitted to read or watch pornography, and the like.

These cases give the law library in the prison a bad name, and also give corrections a bad reputation with the public.

Surprisingly, frivolous law suits also give the inmate litigator a bad reputation with fellow jailhouse lawyers, for many of the same reasons noted above.



Outside of British usage it’s not commonly applied, but occasionally you will see it in print in plays and poetry.

The word means ‘a place of confinement’, and is the Old English term for ‘jail.’

It is also pronounced the same as ‘jail.’


Strange, ironic prisoner nomenclature for the classification concept of ‘earned good conduct credits.’

‘Good time’ is those days deducted from an inmate’s discharge date for socialization programs, school work, and jobs held during incarceration.



One of the important roles filled by the Correctional librarian.

Though prisons by necessity must strive for discipline and good order, this vested authority must be tempered by compassion and, at times, mercy.

The correctional librarian has many daily opportunities to demonstrate these human qualities, and should do so whenever possible, as these actions are linked to the overall socialization of the prisoner.

The correctional librarian is seen by many inmates as a kind of case worker, lending a sympathetic or empathic ear to patron concerns. This role is appropriate, as long as the Librarian does not permit personal feelings to interfere with the librarianship or the orderly running of the prison.


Humor is vital as a coping skill for both prison employee AND inmate — as helpful to negotiating your career as it is for felons to survive incarceration. A healthful, non-cynical sense of humor means the difference between mental health and spiritual death in corrections. Cultivate a healthful sense of humor by:

  • Sharing spontaneous wordplay or jokes with patrons
  • Hiring creative, fun-loving inmate clerks
  • Gravitating toward fellow employees who exercise healthful, non-cynical humor
  • Incorporating humor into your program presentations
  • Exercising the courage to occasionally be seen by clerks, patrons, or staff as foolish and a free spirit.
  • Creating in the lending library an extensive humor section, including (but not limited to!) cartoon collections, comedian biographies, humorous novels, topical satire, joke books, and serious studies on laughter and its importance.



Regardless of state or jurisdiction–and based upon the needs of the prison which houses them–prison libraries tend to be assigned one or all of the following institution roles:

    MANAGEMENT TOOL – The Administration sees the library and its services in purely utilitarian terms — It keeps the prisoners busy, and it’s useful for keeping the prisoners accountable.

    SOCIALIZATION — This is the rehabilitative programming that the library may sponsor or provide, including:

    • Positive-Recreational (e.g., reading)
    • Community Ties
    • Legal Research
    • Other CDCR-sponsored programs
    • Other librarian-created programs (e.g., literacy)

    PROGRAM SUPPORT — This is material supporting academic and vocational efforts in the prison, as well as programs offered by other state agencies and contract vendors, and may include:

    • Academic (Pre-GED, GED, ESL, Literacy, Writing, Computer Literacy, etc.)
    • Vocational
    • Drug Abuse Prevention
    • Sex Offender Treatment
    • Anger Management
    • Community Transition/ Reintegration



A term used for a prisoner who has spent a considerable amount of time in prison law libraries, learning legal research, developing a legal specialty (criminal or civil in nature), and being available to other inmates who need help in submitting documents to the courts.

The ‘lawyer’ part of the phrase is a misnomer, because inmates are forbidden by state statutes from practicing law without a license.

But long-established U.S. Supreme Court case law has held that, in lieu of any state-sponsored legal aid program, inmates are permitted to help each other in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers.


Because corrections is a political animal, there exist two competing — almost negating — philosophies of prisoner management that are constantly at odds with each other.

These philosophies are Deprivation and Socialization(rehabilitation).

Which philosophy is adopted at any one time depends largely on the blowing political winds of both the particular state and of the nation in general.

As you might expect, politics, in the form of appointments, also inform and guide the choosing of the Commissioner / Director of corrections.



Because of the legal mandate of unimpeded access to the courts, each DOC is directed to have either on-site legal collections or to provide access to such a collection.

Law collections include primary sources, finding tools, and secondary material.

Law collections can be found in other areas of the prison (see below).

Depending on the state, some DOCs are mandated to have specific material which is listed in a local case law opinion, consent decree, or stipulation of dismissal.


A place where prisoners can persue legal research in relative peace, and where they can benefit from various legal services such as orginal document photocopying, notary services, free legal stationery for the indigent, and research help from trained inmate law clerks.

LAW LIBRARY (Satellite / Segregation)

‘Segregation’ refers to a wing of the prison reserved for prisoners who have disturbed the good order of the institution by some infraction of prison regulations, up to and including murder of inmates or staff.

Long-established U.S. constitutional law mandates that prisons have law collections in these units, organized and maintained by professional librarians. Legal information can be organized in a traditional library, housed on wheeled multi-shelved carts, delivered through electronic LANs, or in some other manner that meets constitutional muster with the local judiciary.


Learning about legal principles and using finding tools to discover primary sources and secondary material pertinent to an inmate’s legal issues.

Prisoners have a constitutional right to research areas of law which pertain either to their criminal conviction, or to a civil suit detailing some aspect of their incarcerated lives.


Excerpted from Contrasts in American and Jewish Law (pp. 44-45), by Daniel Pollack:

"Courts have consistently held that restrictions on the constitutional rights of inmates are justified if upholding those rights becomes inconsistent with the legitimate penological objectives of the correctional facility.

These penological objectives are twofold:

Objective 1: Deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution.

Objective 2: Preservation of prison security by maintaining order within the correctional facility.

To facilitate the accomplishment of the second objective, courts give prison officials who restrict inmates’ constitutional rights a high degree of deference."

And here’s some US Supreme Court case law language on the subject:

“An infringement of a constitutional right is valid in prison if it is ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives.’ Id. Four factors we have considered in making the reasonableness inquiry are:

  1. whether a valid, rational connection exists between the prison policy and the legitimate governmental interest advanced as justification;
  2. whether alternative means of exercising the constitutional right remain open to prisoners;
  3. what impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards, other inmates, and the allocation of prison resources generally; and
  4. whether alternatives exist that would accommodate the prisoner’s rights at little cost to valid prison interests."

— Excerpted from Stewart v. Thomas, quoting Turner v. Safley (482 U.S. 78, 89-90, 1987).


A place in the prison where the rehabilitative and educational programs are supplemented and supported, where prisoners can come to read for educational or positive-recreational purposes, and whose collection meets the informational needs of the prison population — prison staff included.

The phrase ‘lending’ makes the important distinction between the law library — a noncirculating collection of legal references — and the general collection of circulating fiction and nonfiction, reference material, periodicals, and A/V material.




MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES (Correctional Libraries)

This course teaches and elucidates several key principles of correctional library management. These principles are:

  1. Corrections = Deprivation vs. Socialization
  2. The Correctional Librarian = Prison Employee 1st/ Librarian 2nd
  3. Library Roles: Management Tool/ Program Support/ Socialization
  4. Librarians work FOR the Department, not AGAINST it
  5. Librarian roles: Authoritarian /Disciplinarian /Humanitarian/ Librarian
  6. Service philosophy = a Positive-Recreational/ Therapy hybrid
  7. Correctional Officer = A Correctional librarian’s best friend
  8. Respecting prisoners aids their socialization
  9. You’re as good as your trained library clerks
  10. Law libraries help the indigent, wrongly-accused, unjustly convicted, and civilly injured
  11. Library programs help change lives
  12. Prison makes you face yourself
  13. Humor-As-Therapy minimizes prison negativity
  14. Carefully-selected library material is socialization, not ‘censorship’


This term usually refers to books, CDs, loose-leaf and other material provided to inmates through the main and segregation unit law library collections.

Material so designated is the result of state or federal appellate court opinions regarding prisoners’ unimpeded access to the state and federal court systems.


Much like the corporate world, all Departments of Correction have as its guiding principle a mission statement. These mission sttements are essentialy the same, and boil down to this:

  • The mission of corrections is to protect the public.
  • In contemporary corrections, ‘protecting the public’ has expanded beyond mere incarceration to include the socilaization concepts of rehabilitation and reintegration.


The biggest myth in all of corrections is the following attitude espoused by some administrators, officers, and free staff (which includes librarians) —

“I don’t take this job home with me.”

BULLfeathers and POPPYcock. The way you behave inside the walls is the way you are outside of the walls. If you are kind to yourself and to your patrons, that’s the way you’ll behave in the free world. If you are rotten to everyone inside, you carry that into your personal life.



Unfortunate nomenclature used by some DOCs to refer to non-custodial staff.

The concept of essential and non-essential was developed for security purposes to separate:

…the employees that are necessary to keep good order and 24/7/365 maintenance of the physical plant from

…the employees that do the rehabilitation and classification work.

In this sense, Librarians are non-essential personnel.


ORGANIZATION (Para-Military)

Prison administration follows a para-military structure, where power and information is centralized and flows downward through the Department and thoughout the institution on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.

This ‘centralization’ usually begins in the head executive office of a state’s Department of Correction. For example, in Massachusetts the top executive is called the Commissioner; in California, the position is referred to as Director.

As you would expect, security employees and security operations are at the top of this hierarchy; all rehabilitation programs — including library services — are organized toward the bottom.



Used to indicate books, magazines, newspapers, and other lending library material whose focus is socialization rather than pure entertainment.

It has been argued that a murder mystery circumvents the DOC’s mission of protecting the public; whereas, a Tolkien novel about friendship, teamwork and redemption gives a better socialization message.

Some further argue that prisoners using the law library to sharpen research skills and to solve problems in a socially-acceptable forum (i.e., the court system) are engaging in positive-recreational behavior.


Permanent staff members of a correctional institution who are:

  • Sworn to uphold the laws of the U.S. and of the state
  • Duty-bound to the mission and vision statements of the Corrections Department for which they work
  • Duty-bound to abide by all institution rules and regulations governing employee behavior

PUBLIC LIBRARY MODEL (Service Philosophy)

Many Departments of Correction expect from their libraries and librarians the traditional library/Librarian roles of information provider. Such a service philosophy emulates that of any small public library: interlibrary loan, quiet study area, varied reading selection, school support, A/V material, etc.

What is generally missing in such a service philosophy is the programmatic use of both library and Librarian as invested members in the overall socialization effort provided by the other departments of the prison.

The emphasis is more on service and less on socialization.

This Course suggests that a blending of the two philosophies with a strong socialization intent is the best way to go, for the sake of both society and the prisoners it professes to rehabilitate and socialize.


One correctional myth in our popular culture is that convicts are sent to prison in order to receive punishment. This is wrong.

Prison, by itself, is punishment enough.

PRISON is the punishment.



As contrasted with ‘socialization,’ rehabilitation has for generations remained a fascinating and frustrating term.

Generally speaking, ‘rehabilitation’ traditionally has meant what we in this Course will call ‘socialization programs’ (see SOCIALIZATION below).

For our purposes, rehabilitation will mean “to restore to a useful and constructive place in society,” and will refer to vocational training for prisoners needing marketable job skills in order to successfully re-enter the workplace.

In prisons, rehabilitation often includes vocational & job skills programs such as:

  • Art Training
  • Barbering
  • Bedding (mattresses)
  • Clothes (underwear/ jackets/ shirts, etc.)
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Computer Repair
  • Electrical Shop
  • Electronic Component Assembly
  • Firefighting Skills
  • License Plate Press
  • Plumbing/Heating Shop
  • Print Shop (Desktop Editing/Publishing)
  • Seeing Eye Dog Training
  • Sign Shop
  • Small Engine Repair
  • Upholstery
  • Welding
  • Wood Shop


Material so designated includes information which help inmates re-establish their lives outside of the DOC once they are free to go.

These programs are usually offered within one year of the prisoner’s projected release date.

This may include information on getting and keeping a job/starting a career, housing/ apartment information, mental and physical health information, money management, establishing a good credit history, opening a bank account, anger and other self-control issues, relationship and family information, and sources on other human services.



The mission statement of most Departments of Correction share a similar theme — to protect the public. And this mission is shared by all librarians wishing to make a career in corrections.

All library programs, all library material, and all librarian behavior must be such that it not disturb the orderly running of the prison.

In a correctional library, security is the first priority, because it has to be.


For prison employees alert and honest enough with themselves to recognize their prison experience as one path to self-discovery, there are several psychological realities about which employees must be ever-vigilant. They are:

  • Paranoia/ Trust issues
  • Callousness to physical pain
  • Indifference to emotional pain
  • Abuses of authority
  • Examination of racial/other prejudices
  • Interaction w/inmates & ‘The System’ as a litmus test of strongly-held religious & moral convictions
  • Cynicism, irony, sarcasm, and other destructive ‘humor’


Prisoners cannot be compelled to change — only the opportunities for change can be provided. But once prisoners see the need to participate in these programs, they are on their way toward making positive changes in their lives.

This process — including the decision to change — is called ‘socialization.’

In prison, socialization is the reorienting of a person’s aberrant thinking and behavior to conform with the human goals of civility and self-respect.

Socialization takes many forms–depending on the political whims of the day–but often includes:

  • Anger Management
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Consequential Thinking
  • Drug Addiction and Recovery
  • Formal Education
  • Library Skills
  • Literacy
  • Money Management
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Re-Entry and Reintegration programs
  • Religious/Faith-based services
  • Social Skills (job Interviewing / Relationship Skills / Parenting Skills, etc.)


The CDCR accepts the responsibility of helping its employees to ameliorate the daily stress of their professional lives. This may include but is not limited to:

  • DOC-specific stress-reduction training
  • Working on institution or Department-wide ‘wellness’ committees
  • Sponsoring family excursions
  • Professional individual / family counseling (e.g., substance abuse or domestic violence)
  • Providing a mental health plan using therapists who treat corrections employees exclusively
  • Free use of employee workout facilities and other Department-organized physical activity (e.g., a 5K road race)


THERAPEUTIC MODEL (Service Philosophy)

As a correctional librarian, you must be ever mindful of why your ‘patrons’ are in prison, and why a library is available to them.

One of the reasons for the existence of library services is to provide the outlaw and antisocial personalities myriad self-help texts relative to the issues which precipitated their incarceration.

Material dealing with addictive behaviors, alcoholism, anger management, consequential thinking, domestic violence, family dysfunction, impulsive behavior, sexual abuse, rape, and trust/betrayal–to name a few–tend to support the rehabilitative program efforts of the prison, and helps prisoners gain insight into their crimes and faulty thinking patterns.

Taken as a whole, this therapeutic library material is akin to the ‘positive-recreational’ material found in other areas of the correctional lending library, but is differentiated from pure entertainment (westerns, sci-fi, fantasy, and other general reading, books-on-CD, music CDs, movies, general magazines, etc.).



[Generally] No DOC-created barrier must exist between the inmate’s desire to file a court document and the courts themselves.

Access to the courts is one of the fundamental constitutional rights preserved for the incarcerated.

“Unimpeded access” is a phrase that crops up frequently in state and federal case law opinions dealing with prison law libraries.

This “access” is defined as beginning from the moment the inmate determines that s/he has a legal problem that needs addressing, up to the moment that his legal pleading is mailed by the prison to the court.

The process in between–

  • Law library research time
  • Legal stationery
  • Indigency status
  • Law library services
  • and the institution’s Attoney Access/ Mail/ Property/ Inmate Funds regulations

–all play a part in the inmate’s having his day in court.

If something happens in this process to prevent the inmate from communicating with the court, we say that the inmate’s court access is ‘impeded.’


Prisoners cannot be compelled to change — only the opportunities for change can be provided. Once a prisoner rejects the offer of participating in programs that socialize and rehabilitate, then no structured socialization can take place.

Once this occurs, the one hope left for society is that the prisoner sees the need for change and sets about changing himself. And one way he succeeds is by using the self-help and positive-recreational material found in the lending library.

He can also demonstrate socialization by using the law library and its services to petition the courts over legitimate complaints of confinement.