The Public Square

Barbara Kessel on “Pages for Pennies,” a book sale to benefit Books to Prisoners happening Friday, A

Barbara Kessel on "Pages for Pennies," a book sale to benefit Books to Prisoners happening Friday, April 16 through Sunday, April 18.

My name is Barbara Kessel and I am a volunteer with Books to Prisoners, an organization that collects donated books from the community and ships them to individual inmates at the 28 state prisons for adults + five federal penitentiaries in Illinois. We have always imagined that our efforts supplemented the prison libraries However, we discovered recently that the state budget crisis began to affect the prisons seven years ago, long before it has hit us in schools and social services. In these seven years, the prison libraries have not had any budget to purchase anything, - books, newspapers, magazines or scotch tape. Many of them are shut down for lack of a librarian.

We would like to call your attention as taxpayers to the fact that recidivism for 2009 in the state of Illinois was 51%, that is, over half of the prisoners released, return for another incarceration. Research has shown that any kind of educational factor while in prison - such as access to reading material - reduces recidivism by as much as one third. If the recidivism were reduced by 1/3 in Illinois that could save us $17 million, not to mention the human savings of making families whole again.

Our own efforts here in Champaign-Urbana make a modest but significant difference to thousands of prisoners. You can be part of that by coming to our book sale where we make the money to pay postage. The Book Sale, "Pages for Pennies" is going on today, Friday from 4 to 8, tomorrow 8 to 5 and Sunday 10 to 2 at the old Post Office in Urbana, Broadway and Elm.

However, it is impossible for us to replace the prison libraries. Thus, we urge you to help us with your ideas for how to keep open access to books in prison, to talk to your state legislator, or to join us in a campaign of working with the Illinois Department of Corrections to maintain the prisoners' right to read, so they can take the smart way out and never return., website of Books to Prisoners.