U.S. Prison Library Statistics about 2000

face of a prisoner

U.S. prison libraries about the year 2000 held an estimated 7 book per prisoner. Yearly circulation per prisoner was 21 books.

Data on U.S. state prison libraries is less accessible after 1980 than in the late nineteenth century. U.S. states, through state libraries or other institutions, occasionally issue statistical reports on libraries within the state. Prison libraries, if reported, are usually reported under institutional libraries or special libraries. This workbook collects some data on state prison libraries after 1980. It includes a comparison with estimated public library per capita holdings and circulation about the year 2000. Statistical coverage of the prison libraries is far from complete. More data undoubtedly is available, but time-consuming and tedious to compile. Over-all, state prison libraries have had higher book holdings per adult and greater book circulation per adult than than have public libraries.

Direct comparison of prisoners and non-prisoners library use is available in the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literary (NAAL). That survey indicated that 41% of prisoners, compared to 22% of non-prisoners, had borrowed a book from the library in the past month. Shares of persons reporting using the library monthly or more frequently were 66% for prisoners, compared to 35% for non-prisoners.

Other data on the share of prisoners who use the library varies. A survey that a prison librarian conducted in 1988 (54 responses) found, “average usage level is 42% of prisoners.”^ Among 11 Ohio prisons in 1992, the share of prisoners using the library had an average of 65% and a median of 80%.^ Statistics for shares of prisoners who use the library depend on the specific definition of use. For calculating book circulation per prison library user per year, we have used a figure of 66% library users among all prisoners.

Relevant dataset: prison libraries’ book holdings and circulation after 1980

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