The SINTO Bob Usherwood prize for a dissertation by a student from the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, has been announced. The winner is Peter Field for a piece of research on the role of prison libraries in the provision and evaluation of adult literacy materials and schemes in English prisons.
There has always been a debate as to whether prisons exist to punish criminals or to rehabilitate them. Studies have shown that effective rehabilitation programmes reduce the rate of reoffending. One factor that contributes to criminal behaviour is illiteracy so adult literacy programmes should be a part of rehabilitation and the role of the prison library could be central to this.
Peter faced a number of practical problems with his research to do with access to prisons but he was able to send a questionnaire to a number of prison librarians and interview a few. What he found was many examples of good practice with most libraries providing and promoting literacy materials and engaging in reader development activities such as Storybook Dads. This is a project where prisoners are encouraged to record stories for their children. This not only develops family links but also helps many prisoners improve their literacy skills.
Peter also found that each prison is different and that the provision of library services is affected by local conditions such as the quality of collaboration with partners and managers in the prison.
This research provides useful findings for anyone involved with prison library services but it can may have wider interest. It illustrates a problem common to many librarians in that they are answerable to someone who is not a librarian and may have different priorities:
“Its very difficult because all the prisons are really, really run very differently, they’re like their own little kingdoms, and it really can be to do with if you’ve got a good governor or if you’ve got a good HOLS [Head of Learning]... You can have a HOLS who is only interested in the returns to the LSC (Learning and Skills Council) and bums on seats and less about quality... I have worked in adult literacy and I wouldn’t want to do it now because of the sheer pressure to show progress and it’s really taking away from the qualitative things that you do.” (Participant A).
It also shows that reading, which is a central concern of librarians, is generally disregarded by the educational establishment as is shown by this definition:
"‘Purposeful activity’ is a Key Performance Indicator of an establishment. It is measured in hours per week and the target is weighted according to the prison’s population. Purposeful activity occupies time spent out of the cell and covers education leading to accreditation, physical education, work, involvement in resettlement programmes and voluntary work schemes. It does not explicitly include time spent in the library or reading. (HMPS, 2006)."
SINTO congratulates Peter on winning this prize. A copy of the dissertation can be found on the SINTO website.