Library Services in New York State's Correctional Facilities

Overview

  • New York State provides aid to support law libraries and general libraries for offenders residing in correctional facilities administered by New York State. These libraries are managed by the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
  • General library services for offenders in county correctional facilities (county jails) are determined and administered at the county level. The State provides limited aid to enhance those services through the 23 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 residential youth facilities.

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 Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) offers offenders library services and programs that are modeled on those of public libraries. General libraries in maximum- and medium-security facilities are staffed by librarians, who are assisted by inmate clerks. Correctional camps and small or minimum-security facilities are run by part-time civilian library clerks or other staff in addition to inmate library clerks. DOCCS Division of Library Services, which is staffed by professional librarians, administers the statewide General Library and Law Library Programs.

General library collections are developed to meet the educational, informational, and recreational needs of offenders. They include print and non-print resources of interest to male or female offenders. Reading materials include but are not limited to reference materials, foreign language materials, large print, high interest-low reading level, graphic novels, pamphlets, microfiche, videos, audio books, mixed-media resources, CD-ROMS and DVDs.

General library collections at DOCCS facilities maintain current subscriptions to popular magazines in multiple languages and formats, as well as local and hometown newspapers.  DOCCS personnel provide reference services as well as orientation programs on the use of libraries and the value of local public library use for ex-offenders and their families. Each library receives interlibrary loan and similar services through affiliation with the public library system serving its region.

To encourage self-awareness and personal growth, DOCCS facility General Libraries offer regular programming 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. The DOCCS General Library Program also supports the Department’s other programs, especially education, transitional services, and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse.

Law Libraries: Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, states are required to provide offenders with access to the courts either by establishing law libraries in correctional facilities or by assigning lawyers for offenders. New York State has chosen to establish law libraries in State correctional facilities.

Also funded through DOCCS, the Law Library Program offers offenders 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 DOCCS legal research course, may provide legal research assistance or make referrals to free community legal service organizations. Other services provided at facility Law Libraries may include notary service, photocopying of legal materials, typing, and distribution of legal writing supplies.

Law libraries are nearly all staffed by full-time correctional officers. DOCCS also offers interlibrary loan access to legal materials. Also, the New York State Library’s Research Library will provide copies of unique library materials held at the State Library and not available elsewhere (such as records and briefs) to DOCCS Library Services so the law libraries can fulfill inmate requests for legal materials.

County Jails

SState statutory or administrative law does not mandate that general library services and materials be provided to offenders in local correctional facilities. However, most counties provide some general library services at local jail facilities. While general library services are not required, the State Commission of Correction does mandate that counties provide offenders with access to basic legal resources.

Public library systems, through the State-supported library services to county jails program and through the public library system’s coordinated outreach services program, provide advisory services to the sheriffs or other designated county jail employees on developing and maintaining libraries in facilities. Most libraries resemble reading rooms more than full-service libraries. (Notable exceptions are those in Buffalo, Syracuse, and New York City.)  

Services of the New York State Library to State and County Correctional Facility General Libraries

The State Library supports library services in general libraries at State Correctional Facilities and county jails 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 two State-funded programs and disseminates the formula funds to the public library systems based on the annual resident inmate populations of the facilities located in the systems’ service areas.

Funds for the Public Library System Services to State Correctional Facility Libraries Program are paid annually to the 17 public library systems in which the 54 State correctional facilities are located. In addition, all 23 public library systems receive limited State funds for Public Library System Services to County Jails Program to serve the county jails located in their service areas.
Each public library system annually contracts directly with the State and county facilities in its service area regarding the services and materials that will be provided by the library system to the facility library. Contracts are specific to each institution. The library system and the correctional facility arrange and agree on the contract, with oversight provided by the DOCCS liaison and the State Library Program Manager.

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 the development and distribution of resource guides on available transitional services for use before and at the time of release back to the community.

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 offenders who have a physical or medically certified reading disability and require this service. Materials and equipment are loaned free to facility libraries or to individual offenders according to the regulations of each facility.

Directives about NYS DOCCS Library Services:

Contact at NYS DOCCS for General and Law Library Services

Corinne F. Leone, MLIS
Supervising Librarian & Law Library Coordinator
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
The Harriman Campus, 1220 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12226-2050
518-485-7109 | 518-402-1737 | Fax 518-485-9629 | corinne.leone@doccs.ny.gov
CCF 470 ext. 4607

Contact at New York State Library Public Library System Services for State Correctional Facilities and County Jails Programs

Mary Beth Farr, Library Development Specialist
Division of Library Development
New York State Education Department
Cultural Education Center 10B41
Albany, New York 12230
518-486-4927 Fax 518-486-5254
MaryBeth.Farr@nysed.gov 

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

Last Updated: February 15, 2018 -- asm; for questions or comments, contact Mary Beth Farr