Mass Incarceration in Appalachia
Over 2.1 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and the United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world (698 per 100,000 people). In fact, three of the six states we serve have incarceration rates higher than the overall rate for the United States:
- Kentucky: 869 per 100,000 people
- Tennessee: 853 per 100,000 people
- Virginia: 779 per 100,000 people
- United States: 698 per 100,000 people
- West Virginia: 690 per 100,000 people
- Ohio: 679 per 100,000 people
- Maryland: 585 per 100,000 people
Over a quarter million people are imprisoned in the six states we serve, and Kentucky incarcerates women at the third highest rate in the country.
Mass incarceration divides our society into two worlds, inside and outside.
Access to Books and Education in Prison
What we on the outside take for granted—books, education—can be hard to access in prison. People who are imprisoned often face barriers to accessing books. Prison libraries in many cases are underfunded and inadequate. Getting books from the outside can be challenging.
Some facilities only allow new books to be shipped directly from the publisher or other approved vendor (such as Amazon), but many families and friends cannot afford to purchase books to mail. Some people have been incarcerated for so long that they no longer have connections on the outside, as this letter writer notes:
“I was advised to contact you regarding receipt of “Puzzle Books.” . . . I have been confined for more than 35 years and this is the first such organization that I have known, or heard of, that provides any type of books to inmates. Most of my family members have passed away during my confinement.”
Many of the prisons in the region we serve do not have educational programs. Space is often limited, or enrollment restricted, in the programs that do exist.
Books and Education Are Lifelines
Books and education can be real lifelines to people doing time. As Erin L. Castro notes, higher education in prison is “a positive good…opening critical conversations and projects, providing conceptual tools for self and community enhancement, reconnecting people to their own projects involving thought and creativity, among related social projects promoting social healing, civic engagement, and human flourishing.”
Or, in the words of our friends on the inside:
“Thanks for always being there 2 assist with the growth of my continued consciousness. Please never feel unappreciated in the job you do for those like myself. Yes, I was a hard headed child when I left the ‘free’ world, but a child nonetheless, so thank you for equipping me with the knowledge 2 grow as a man.”
“The Appalachian Prison Book Project has broadened my understanding. Providing books, the Appalachian Prison Book Project has provided myself. Information is power and power is information.”
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus16.pdf
- Castro, Erin L. “Racism, the Language of Reduced Recidivism, and Higher Education in Prison: Toward an Anti-Racist Praxis.” Critical Education 9, no. 17 (2018): 1–17. https://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/criticaled/article/view/186357/185510
- Prison Policy Initiative, States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html
- Prison Policy Initiative, States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context 2018, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/2018.html