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Jailhouse library shelved

Joe Fiorito writes in The Toronto Star about a maddening situation at Toronto’s Don Jail. For years, Darlene Soares volunteered her time to work as a librarian at the jail – soliciting donations of books, amassing more than 2,000, and encouraging the inmates to read.

Given that many of the men in the slammer are illiterate, anything that can be done to improve their reading skills while they are captive is a good thing.

Or so you’d think.

The people who run the jail took Darlene’s room away from her a while ago; she found this out, not from jail officials, but from a maintenance man who told her she would have to move the prison library into a glorified broom closet, perhaps 6 metres long and a mere 100 centimetres wide. Darlene is claustrophobic.

Officials eventually said they wanted to use the library room to store protective vests.

Guards tried to intervene; they offered a variety of alternatives, and asked to be present when the issue was discussed in management meetings. They were ignored.

Darlene said there is an empty room built for the use of prison psychologists; it was never used and remains unused.

She quit.

“It was so disrespectful.”

She sent some of the books to shelters. The remainder have been dumped in the broom closet. A few books still circulate among the men. Darlene said, “I’ve cried oceans. I’ll never volunteer again.”

Fiorito writes that no one at the jail was available to comment. And as if the fact that the jail shut down the library isn’t outrageous enough, the fact that the room for the prison psychologists is never used, tells you a lot about what’s wrong with the correctional system. Why do we spend so much money locking people up and so little helping them rehabilitate?