Library Services in New York State's Correctional Facilities


  • New York provides aid to support law libraries and general libraries for inmates of correctional facilities administered by New York State.
  • General library services for inmates in county correctional facilities (county jails) are determined and administered at the county level. The State provides limited aid to enhance those services through public library systems.
  • Although all public and private school students have access to books in school libraries and at local public libraries, no State funding is available to provide access to library services for residents of Office of Children and Family Services facilities.

Since 1999, the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), which oversees youth correctional facilities in New York State, has supported an amendment to Education law “…to provide state aid to local public library systems…to make their library resources available to residents of facilities operated by the Office of Children and Family Services….” Despite progress by OCFS in expanding literacy and library services since that time, much needs to be done to ensure quality and consistency of services, especially for youth who lack literacy skills, are poor, and belong to minorities.

OCFS writes in support of the proposed legislation, “…It is imperative that reading materials be made available to young people in OCFS facilities. This bill would assist in that endeavor by connecting OCFS facilities with their local public library system in a more formal way and providing the library systems with the resources to provide services to OCFS….”

Library Services in State and County Correctional Facilities

Libraries and library services in correctional facilities in New York State vary considerably with the type of facility.

State Correctional Facilities (Adults)

Libraries in State correctional facilities in New York State include two types:

General libraries: General library services in State correctional facilities are required by standards established by the New York State Commission of Correction.

The New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) offers inmates library services and programs that are modeled on those of public libraries. General libraries in maximum- and minimum-security facilities are staffed by librarians, who are assisted by inmate clerks. Some of these clerks participate in State Department of Labor Librarian Assistant apprenticeships. Correctional camps and small facilities are run by part-time civilian library clerks or other staff in addition to inmate library clerks. DOCS Division of Library Services, which is staffed by two librarians, administers the statewide General Library and Law Library Programs.

General library collections are developed to meet the educational, informational, and recreational needs of inmates. They include print and non-print resources of interest to male or female inmates. Some reading materials are available for inmates who are new readers, or who speak only Spanish or another language.

Most libraries maintain subscriptions to popular magazines and hometown newspapers. They provide reference and referral services as well as orientation programs on the use of libraries and the value of library use for ex-offenders and their families. Each library receives interlibrary loan and similar services through affiliation with the public library system that serves its region. When possible, DOCS libraries loan their materials to fill requests from public library systems.

To encourage self-awareness and personal growth, libraries offer programs such as book and film discussions, lectures, cultural presentations, readings, and writing workshops. Frequently covered topics include parenting, family literacy, journal writing, money management, job information, and communications skills. DOCS General Library Program also supports the department’s other programs, especially education, transitional services, and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse.

Law Libraries: As a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, states are required to provide inmates with access to the courts either by establishing law libraries in correctional facilities or by assigning lawyers for inmates. New York State has chosen to establish law libraries in State correctional facilities. (Because several facilities have more than one campus, the libraries outnumber the correctional facilities.)

Also funded through the Department of Correctional Services, the Law Library Program offers inmates basic resources for legal research and preparation of legal papers. Collections consist of primary and secondary sources including case law, statutes, State and Federal rules and regulations, and self-help treatises. Inmate law clerks, certified through a DOCS legal research course, provide legal research assistance or make referrals to free community legal service organizations. Other services include notary service, photocopying of legal materials, typing, and distribution of legal writing supplies.

Law libraries are nearly all staffed by correctional officers. Librarians are rare (librarians staff only four of the 90 law libraries).
DOCS also offers interlibrary loan access to the legal collections. Public and court libraries occasionally borrow from the law libraries.

County Jails

State statutory or administrative law does not mandate that general library services and materials be provided to inmates in local correctional facilities. However, most counties provide some general library services. While general library services are not required, the State Commission of Correction does mandate that counties provide inmates with access to basic legal resources. Larger counties have more sophisticated programs than smaller counties.

Public Library System Outreach Consultants provide advisory services to the sheriffs on developing and maintaining jail libraries. Most libraries resemble reading rooms more than full-service libraries. (Notable exceptions are those in Buffalo, Syracuse, and New York City.) Library services and materials in county jails are supplemented through limited State aid to the 23 public library systems for outreach programs.

State Correctional Facilities for Youth

State correctional facilities for youth offer some basic library services that vary considerably from one facility to another.

The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has 32 facilities statewide with a total capacity of 2,225. Residents of OCFS facilities are youth who are remanded to the agency’s custody and care from the family and criminal courts. Most residents are 13 to 18 years old.

Rehabilitative services provided to youth in residential care include counseling, health, education, and employment services, as well as programs for youth with special needs. However, library resources for residents are very limited. One facility library had only 100 books in 1999. Some facilities rely on donations from staff and the community to acquire books. Others have developed informal relationships with the public library system where the facility is located. Arrangements with local libraries include book loans and visits by the bookmobile. Where such arrangements exist, library services to the facility are greatly enhanced.

As discussed above, since 1999 OCFS has supported legislation to amend Education law to provide State aid to local public library systems to make their library resources available to residents of facilities operated by OCFS. The Education Department and the Department of Correctional Services supported the proposed amendment.

In the four years since this amendment failed to pass, the OCFS Bureau of Education Services has made some headway in improving the libraries in the residential facilities, e.g., augmenting the collections somewhat, initiating F cataloging systems in some locations, and obtaining Title I grants in some locations. The long-term goal is to permit the youth facility libraries to network and collaborate with the public library systems.

Services of the New York State Library to State and County Correctional Facilities

The State Library supports library services in both general libraries and law libraries as follows:

Services to general libraries: General libraries receive additional State-funded services through New York State’s public library systems. The New York State Library administers these funds to the public library systems based on the inmate populations of the facilities in the systems’ service areas.

Funds for the State Correctional Library Program are paid to the 18 public library systems in which the 70 State correctional facilities are located. In addition, all 23 public library systems receive limited State funds to serve the county jails in their service areas.

Each public library system contracts directly with the State and county facilities in its service area. Contracts are specific to each institution. The library system and the correctional facility arrange and agree on the contract, with oversight provided by the DOCS liaison and the State Library.

Program Funding:

State Correctional Facilities $9.25 per inmate
County Correctional Facilities $175,000
State aid also makes possible interlibrary loan, modest material and equipment grants, special programming, and resource guides on transitional services for use before and at the time of release.

In addition, the State Library's Talking Book and Braille Library lends special format books and playback equipment to general libraries in upstate correctional facilities for inmates who have a physical or medically certified reading disability and need this service. Materials and equipment are loaned free to facility libraries or to individual inmates according to the regulations of each facility.

See Appendix B for a sampling of specific services and programs provided through four of the 23 library systems.

Services to Law Libraries

Date: May 30, 2014

To: Public Library System Directors and Outreach Coordinators
From: Bernard A. Margolis, Assistant Commissioner for Libraries and State Librarian
Subject: State Library Prisoner Services Project Will Cease Operation on June 30, 2014

On June 30, 2014, the New York State Library will cease operation of the “Prisoner Services Project.” On July 1, 2014, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) will assume responsibility for filling inmate requests for legal materials.

Please refer to New Procedures for Handling State Correctional Facility Inmate Requests for Legal Materials beginning July 1, 2014; Frequently Asked Questions For Public Library Systems and Libraries (pdf icon .PDF only, 166k, revised June 4, 2014) for more information as to how these inmate legal requests will be handled going forward.

The New York State Library’s "Prisoner Services Project" has provided copies of legal materials directly to inmates in New York State correctional facilities (this does not include county jails or federal facilities) for some forty years and currently handles 35,000 requests annually. The Library has filled direct requests from inmates for American Law Reports, state and federal court decisions, law review articles published in the last 20 years, the New York State Code of Criminal Procedure, records and briefs for New York State cases, U.S. Supreme Court cases, and the second circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and New York Law Journal articles and decisions.

Requests that are received from inmates by June 30, 2014, will be processed by the State Library. Requests received from inmates on or after July 1 will be sent to DOCCS for handling, unless the inmate requests are for specific items that are located at the State Library and that cannot currently be accessed by DOCCS elsewhere – e.g., Records and Briefs on fiche. (NOTE: A typical request for Records and Briefs would be: “Please send me the records and briefs for People v. Ivan Benjamin, 58 AD2d 639, App. Div. 2nd Dept., 1/13/2009.”)

Questions concerning the services provided by DOCCS may be directed to Corinne F. Leone.

Library systems and local libraries that receive requests from inmates for legal materials should direct those requests to DOCCS:

Corinne F. Leone, Supervising Librarian and Law Library Coordinator, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
1220 Washington Ave., Albany, NY 12226-2050

Any questions about the Public Library System Services to State Correctional Facility Libraries State Aid Program should be directed to Library Development Specialist Mary Beth Farr at the New York State Library.


Appendix A: Contacts for Services to Correctional Facilities

General and Law Libraries in State Correctional Facilities: Corinne F. Leone, Supervising Librarian and Law Library Coordinator, New York State Department of Correctional Services

Public Library System Services to General Libraries in New York State Correctional Facilities and County Jails: Mary Beth Farr, Library Development Specialist, Outreach Services, New York State Library

Appendix B: Examples of Library Programs and Services Provided to State and County Correctional Facilities by Public Library Systems In 2001

Public Library System

County Jail Facilities Served

Services to County Facilities

State Correctional
Facilities Served

Services to State Facilities

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

Appropriation Total: $8,768

Appropriation Total: $45,723

  Erie County Holding Center

Erie County Correctional Facility

Erie County Detention Home
  • Print, video, and audio materials to meet learning needs of inmate population
  • Updating and distribution of CONNECTIONS: A Guide to Transitional Services in Erie County to County Jails and State Correctional Facilities


  • Delivery of interlibrary loan materials from Central Library
  • Memberships in Western New York Library Resources Council
  • Library materials including bestsellers and Spanish-language materials
  • Subscriptions to newspapers and periodicals
Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System

Appropriation Total: $1,463

Appropriation Total: $93,999

Clinton County Jail

Essex County Jail

Franklin County Jail
  • Magazine subscriptions (33)


Bare Hill




Camp Gabriels

Lyon Mountain


  • Ethnic and educational programs for more than 6,000 inmates: Kwanzaa Principles; Writing Workshops; Communication in Relationships: Parenting: Financial Planning
  • Children's books and videos in Spanish
  • Mini-grants to eight facility libraries for special library programs
  • High-interest/low-reading-level books, recorded books, Spanish/English titles
Pioneer Library System

Appropriation Total: $3,006

Appropriation Total: $63,751

Livingston County Jail

Ontario County Jail

Wayne County Jail

Wyoming County Jail
  • Books and magazine subscriptions including biographies and Hispanic titles
  • Job information materials
  • Book discussion group
  • Assistance with selection and orders for literacy project
  • Videos (50) borrowed from system’s public collection
  • Livingston/Wyoming Community Connections, transitional resource guide




Groveland Minimum Security




  • Interlibrary loan
  • Popular and Spanish rotating collections
  • Spanish-language collections
  • Videotapes
  • Purchase of extended loan materials
  • Programming, including Attica’s theater troupe presentation on drug prevention and Groveland’s writing and poetry workshops
Note: At the New York Library Association Conference in October 2001, the Pioneer Library System outreach staff and its five correctional librarians presented a panel-discussion program titled "Prison Libraries: Issues and Challenges" to more than 65 library professionals. Jean Botta, Department of Corrections Supervising Librarian, joined the panel as each librarian discussed a segment of librarianship inside a correctional facility.
North Country Library System

Appropriation Total: $2,664

Appropriation Total: $48,433

Jefferson County Jail

Lewis County Jail

Oswego County Jail

St. Lawrence County Jail
  • Purchase of 502 paperback books
  • Magazine subscriptions (3)
  • Loan of 89 paperbacks
  • Donation of 71 discarded books-by-mail paperbacks to Jefferson County Jail
  • Adult/Family Literacy Project "Come Read with Me" (in three of four jails)*
Cape Vincent




  • Consultant Services: Visit by Special Services Consultant to each facility
  • Two meetings for facility librarians
  • Assistance with booking special programs
  • Assistance in selecting/obtaining new computers
  • Michael Johnson, motivational speaker (at Cape Vincent)
  • "Kwanzaa All Year Long" program
  • Poetry-writing workshop
  • Library materials including Spanish-language and black-interest, reference, educational videotapes
  • Purchase of network server, PCs, software
  • Filling of 3,031 Interlibrary loan requests
  • Weekly delivery of books/materials
From reports/evaluation of services: Inmates visited or used library services 4,563 times; circulation totaled 13,936. Staff reported that inmates like libraries and book carts because books educate and entertain, improve morale, and diminish disciplinary problems.

One inmate wrote an articulate letter of thanks to Interlibrary Loan staff, commenting: "In a real way, reading has kept me sane during my incarceration. Besides being entertaining, informative and thought-provoking, it has enabled me to cope with my surroundings."
*New York State provided an Adult Literacy Library Services Grant to the North Country Library System to conduct the program "Come Read With Me." Working with community partners such as public television, Literacy Volunteers, and BOCES, the project encouraged family literacy. The grant placed high-quality children's books in the visiting rooms of correctional facilities (including county jails) so that inmates can read to their children when they visit. A matching collection in the facility's general library permits an inmate to practice with a book ahead of time. The grant also made possible more than 1,000 giveaway bags filled with books, crayons, bookmarks, an activity book, LVA literature, family reading tips, and library promotional materials for children at the visit process center. This project ran for one year and received much positive feedback from participants.

SEE ALSO Guidelines for Public Library System services to State Correctional Facility Libraries State Aid Program

Last Updated: March 16, 2017 -- asm; for questions or comments, contact Mary Beth Farr