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“The Big Read” Comes to Maryland Division of Correction Libraries

As one of the largest State government agencies, DSPCS has employees based from one corner of Maryland to the other, in all 23 counties plus Baltimore City. The net result is thousands of employees plugged into the needs and struggles of their communities.

This spring, prison libraries within the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) "Big Read" photohave been able to buy hundreds of books and organize dozens of reading and discussion groups thanks to a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “The Big Read” uses Fahrenheit 451, a book about a society in which books are banned, as its theme. The idea: to get disenfranchised or lapsed readers (like inmates) to pick up a book, because in this case education is key to breaking the cycle of recidivism. 

Mary Stevanus, librarian at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown (MCI-H), was the forward-thinking employee who made it happen, giving Maryland Division of Correction (DOC) the distinction of being the first and only prison system awarded, a fact not lost on the National Endowment for the Arts, which was thrilled enough to put DPSCS on its website.

Sixty-eight percent of all inmates come into the system without a high school diploma. Educating them is not only a good thing to do; it’s essential, because without education, job skill training, and re-entry transition resources, inmates are more likely to fail. And when they fail, many commit new crimes - and make new victims.

DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard is keenly aware of this, and has developed dozens of unique programs designed to win an inmate’s “investment” in something that will educate him or her, provide transferable jobs skills and benefit society at the same time: programs likePublic Safety Works - inmate projects to clean up the Bay, plant trees, and restore cemeteries to name a few – and Workforce Development efforts. < See our Initiatives Tab for details of these projects and more.

"Big Read" photo

MCI-H and Eastern Correctional Institution libraries kicked off "The Big Read” with special events. ECI librarian June Brittingham even had inmates in the prison graphics shop make bookmarks. The institutions made a big deal out of these events, because sometimes, picking up a book is the first step for an inmate to move down the right path.  

Despite popular opinion, inmates do not come to prison libraries solely to research their legal cases. MCI-H Assistant Warden Rich Dovey points out that his prison’s library serves more than one thousand inmates a month, and that those inmates check out more than a thousand books and resource materials each month. Most of the borrowed material deals not with legal issues, but job training, housing, and re-entry services.

If “The Big Read” grant means inmates can reconnect with materials that will not only benefit their future as productive citizens, but consequently the public at large, it will be worth the investment.