Prison librarian bill gains legislative support
Member testimony boosts bill to increase librarian involvement in education, rehab

 A bill to expand the role of prison librarians passed a key legislative committee with strong bipartisan support after Unit 3 members worked statewide to rally support for the legislation.

The Senate Public Safety Committee passed SB 343 on April 21 with bipartisan support. The bill, carried by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), would enhance literacy programs for prison inmates by expanding the role of prison libraries and librarians. The bill would also expand the incentives for inmates to complete college degrees.

“The library provides a place for inmates to expand their literacy skills and prepare themselves for release from prison,” said Robert Oldfield, a librarian at Valley State Prison, who testified at the hearing. “Because we are the only part of the prison with Internet access for inmates, librarians play a key role in helping prisoners prepare for work and look for a place to live when they parole.”

Oldfield pointed out that the libraries in his prison answered more than 1,000 queries this year for reentry services from inmates. However, many prison libraries are unable to reach their potential because of unfilled job vacancies and high turnover.

Bargaining Unit 3 Chair John Kern pointed out that SB 343 would give librarians a role in preparing inmates for successful parole and would incentivize completion of two year and four year college degrees.

“Prison librarians support development of skills to help inmates navigate the Information Age society they will enter upon release, “Kern said. “Our libraries are critical to maintaining a culture of rehabilitation in California’s prisons.  Librarians enhance public safety through their important work.”