Literature in Prison

On the effect of literature in prison: 

Dinitia Smith writes

Mr. Richter, 56, who has been working in prisons for 33 years, has no statistics testifying to the program’s success or its effect on recidivism rates. But, he said: “When we first began there were lots of incidents of violence. It was nothing for somebody to walk into that unit and see three or four kids waiting in shackles to be put in disciplinary lockdown.” Nowadays, he said, “we have very few incidents of violence. We may have a fight once every three months.”

For Tyler, charged with armed robbery, the program, “brings you into a whole new life for a brief period. Whatever you’re facing here, you can put it aside.”

The boys stay at the jail for an average of four to eight months. Eighty-five percent are convicted and go to adult prisons where there are few programs like this. What’s the point of offering them this brief look at literature? “If there is a salvageable lot, it’s these kids,” Mr. Richter said. “You can see it after they’ve been here a while. Their eyes grow a little less hard. They begin to believe there is hope for them.”

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