Books to Prisoners

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Books to Prisoners is an umbrella term for several projects and organizations that mail free reading material to prison inmates. The first Books to Prisoners projects were founded in the early 70's including Books to Prisoners in Seattle in the early 1970s and the Prison Book Program in Boston, Massachusetts in 1972.

Since then dozens of prison book programs have been established, although many have had short life-spans. Currently there are more than twenty similar projects in the United States and Canada.[1] In keeping with the anarchist cultural roots of the concept there is no centralized national organization, and each group runs autonomously. However the groups communicate common issues and solutions through a listserv created in 2006[2] and have held national conferences, the first being held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2003, the second in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, in 2007.[3]

Ornamental image of books
Books to Prisoners provides literacy resources for inmates

These projects accept donations of books from bookstores and individuals. Each project solicits letters from prisoners requesting books, usually by genre or by naming a preferred author. Project volunteers read the letters, and reply with a few books taken from the project's collection. There is no cost to prisoners.

Generally, volunteers answer letters, mail packages and complete administrative work. Many of the projects are affiliated with a local independent bookstore in their home city, which provides a drop-off place for donations, and sometimes a small supply of books as well. Some books to prisoners organizations serve specific subgroups of prisoners by collecting specialized reading materials that focus on subjects like sexuality or race.[4] Postage for mailing the books is a major expense that must be met through donations.

Often-requested materials include dictionaries, how-to books, educational books, and historical works, especially those focusing on African-American, Latino, and Native American history.[5]

Book 'Em Pittsburgh[edit]

History. Book’Em was founded in 2000 as a project of The Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Originally, Book’Em shipped donated books to prisoners across the United States.

Mission. The all-volunteer organization sends books to prisoners across PA at no cost to the inmates.[6]

Appalachian Prison Book Project[edit]

APBP was founded in 2004 in Morgantown, West Virginia and sends free books to incarcerated people across six states in Appalachia: Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.[7] APBP is currently a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.


  1. ^ "Other Books to Prisoners Programs". Prison Book Program. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
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  5. ^ When did used books become contraband?
  6. ^ "Opinion | Incarcerated Pennsylvanians now have to pay $150 to read. We should all be outraged". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  7. ^ "This Appalachian Nonprofit Puts Books In The Hands Of Inmates Who Need Them". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2019-08-23.