In make believe, prison books usually are diversions - a Bible carved out to hide the rock hammer in "The Shawshank Redemption" or a field guide full of clues about The Company in "Prison Break."
In real life, prisoners actually read.
And one civil rights attorney says Utah's Department of Corrections is profiting from inmates' craving for the written word.
Since 2004, the state has had an exclusive contract with Barnes & Noble to sell books to prisoners. The Department of Corrections' commissary charges a $1 processing fee and pockets the difference between what inmates pay and what the bookseller charges.
Attorney Brian Barnard calls it "profiteering."
Dennice Alexander is the first full-time administrator to oversee the libraries within Arkansas state prison system, which holds more than 14,000 inmates spread among 20 locations. Prior to taking the position Alexander, 61, had never visited a prison.
For the longest time, advisory boards held sway over what books made it inside the double razor-wired fences. But, in recent years, Alexander has approved the books and magazines that bring light inside a system once deemed by federal courts to be a "dark and evil world."
"They're trying to rehabilitate themselves," Alexander said. "We have (prisoners) leaving everyday and some of them have been in since they were 17, 16, and now they're 35 and 40. The world has changed, so they don't know about Internet or banking."
Alexander receives only $20,000 a year to purchase books, magazines and newspapers for inmates. And she's working to create late fees for overdue books, possibly charging an inmate's commissary account if a borrowed book stays out past two weeks. As much as 90 per cent of all books in circulation at the prison units come from donations.
A big change is proposed for the Blair County [PA] Prison. It may soon be a easier for inmates to do legal research. The Commissioners in Hollidaysburg say they have a number of good reasons to change the law library in the county's lock up. Chief among them, the move is expected to save this county a lot of money.
Most prison librarians are hardworking and dedicated, but not many have received what Sue Wilkinson, librarian at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham UK, just received; the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or MBE, a British order of chivalry established by King George V in 1917.
According to the Evesham Journal, the recipient is quite pleased particularly since 2008 is the National Year of Reading in Britain.
State prison officials have decided to allow a publisher of legal self-help books to distribute its materials in Massachusetts prisons.
The decision comes after mail-order publisher Prison Legal News sued Department of Correction Commissioner Harold Clarke. The Seattle-based publisher claimed Clarke was banning its publications in state prisons by refusing to add it to a list of approved vendors who can send books to prisoners.