The Books to Prisoners movement dates back to the early 1970's, with the founding of Seattle Books to Prisoners and the Prison Book Program in Boston. During this time of heightened political organizing by liberatory social movements, marginalized people put forward demands for self determination that included the ability of incarcerated people to access materials for political education and cultural resilience behind bars. Since then, dozens of groups have been established around the US and Canada, proliferating throughout the 1990's and early 2000s largely in response to policies and practices resulting in an explosion of the U.S. prison population over less than two decades. Most books to prisoner projects are run entirely by volunteers with a few having limited employees.
Generally speaking, the groups collect used books or raise money to buy new ones and provide them to prisoners. Some groups mail them to individuals in prison. Others stock prison libraries. Some do both. Most serve all prisoners. A few programs specialize in services to women or the LGBTQ community.
Each group runs autonomously, and in keeping with the anarchist cultural roots of the movement, there is no centralized national organization. Members of each group collaborate on common challenges through a listserv and infrequent conferences.
This idea for an "alliance" of BtP programs coalesced around the growing need to unify individual groups like ours into a national movement to keep books accessible for incarcerated individuals. What might that look like? That's exactly what needs to be uncovered! We are seeking applicants who can lead the development of an 18-24 month work/action plan and budget for the proposed alliance. How can our groups increase our reach and efficiency? What strategies could help to address issues in censorship and tablet adoption? How do we assess the value of this work?
The exploratory committee overseeing this RFP is comprised of representative of several books to prisoners groups.