The library in Edinburgh jail, in collaboration with Edinburgh City Libraries, was designed and built with the help of prisoners in a refurbished wing of the jail. In 18 months, the prison library has been transformed from what amounted to a small book depository, ill-used by the jail's 900 prisoners, to a bright, community space that has a waiting list for membership. Yesterday it was named the winner of the 2010 UK Libraries Change Lives Award.
The library boasts a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, with inmates choosing from topics as varied as crime, poetry, history, art and sports. Prisoners have a dedicated 45 minute session in the library each week, but can access it at other times. Before the new library opened, only 5% of prisoners borrowed books - now 50% take out books.
A recent survey found that 91% of prisoners have poor reading skills, with 11% having literacy levels below that of an 11 year old. Prison governor Nigel Ironside says the library has become the cornerstone of the prison's literacy strategy. "This engagement in literacy and basic learning for prisoners is the basis for reducing re-offending" he says. In the past 18 months, there have been 63 referrals from the library to other courses and learning programmes.
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