Books2Prisoners Drive Offers Respite for Those Behind Bars

The Kwantlen Prison Justice Club-led program provides incarcerated individuals with better access to rehabilitation resources

The Kwantlen Prison Justice Club, has set up this donation box in the Criminology pod on the third floor of the Surrey Main building. (Kristen Frier)

The Kwantlen Prison Justice Club recently started a Books2Prisoners drive to provide book donations to people behind bars. The club has partnered with Canadian organization Books 2 Prisoners to make this initiative a reality.

“Books are not just for people who are outside of prison. Books are universal, and everyone should be able to read them,” says Salehah Hakik, the President of the Kwantlen Prison Justice Club.

Hakik believes that providing books to prisoners will help ease the rehabilitation process for them.

“The reasons why you incarcerate someone is to rehabilitate,” she says. “When you’re in prison and you don’t have access to [tools that provide the opportunity for rehabilitation], you come out worse.”

She continues, “Allowing them to read and take a few hours out of their day in a book will help with mental stimulation, as well as encourage them to stay connected to what’s going on in the outside world. Being locked up provides so much damage to them socially and mentally, so giving them books to read … is a huge benefit to their rehabilitation.”

Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor and co-chair of the Kwantlen Criminology Department at KPU, also believes that books can play a part in the rehabilitation process, but notes that there are other issues at play.

“Someone’s likelihood of coming out of prison successfully and finding opportunities to make it on the outside has to do with a whole variety of factors,” he says. “It’s hard to say that more books in prisons on their own is going to have radical rehabilitative effects. However, one thing we do know is that education is a huge factor in ensuring people have successful outcomes out of prison. Education is underfunded, and even opportunities for self-education through reading is an important activity.”

Larsen was once a managing editor for the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, an academic journal operated out of the University of Ottawa where all the articles are written by current or former prisoners.

“Books can be a life changer,” he says. “I wouldn’t be a professor if I didn’t think that. For our students, access to the right type of books can be a gamechanger and change how someone sees the world. It’s the same sort of thing with prisoners.”

Other issues that impact the rehabilitation process include improving the connection prisoners have with the outside world, limiting the number of convicted individuals who get sent to prison, and—one often overlooked issue—safe injection sites inside of prisons.

“The official policy of a lot of prison institutions is that drugs are illegal in prison, and so [they]’re not going to adopt policies that begin with the starting point that acknowledges that people are getting and using drugs,” Larsen says. “[They] banned it so [they]’re going to treat it like it’s not happening, even though it is happening.”

He continues, “We know on the outside that harm reduction methods has an immeasurable impact on the likelihood of surviving an overdoses, but … in prison it’s not easy to come by needles for the use of substances, so they’re often shared, and you can imagine what this does in terms of the transmission of bloodborne infections.”

Hakik and the Kwantlen Prison Justice Club are accepting book donations until March 13. The club is also planning another event in the future called “Prison Justice: The Walls that Close In” to discuss additional resources that need to be provided to prisoners to help improve their chances at successfully rehabilitating.

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