French translation of Books beyond Bars: The transformative potential of prison libraries

18 June 2020

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) publication Books beyond Bars: The Transformative Potential of Prison Libraries, highlighting the contribution of prison libraries to the education and personal development of incarcerated adults and youth, is now available in French. Lire derrière les barreaux: le pouvoir de transformation des bibliothèques en milieu carcéral also examines the essential role that libraries within prisons play in preparing inmates for their reintegration into society, an important function of penal institutions.

The majority of prisoners come from difficult socio-economic backgrounds and often have low levels of education with limited literacy skills. It is therefore particularly important to give them access to educational resources, starting with books. Lire derrière les barreaux examines the experiences of various prison library systems around the world and identifies examples of good practice as well as challenges. The book demonstrates the potential of prison libraries to be spaces for intellectual escape, discovery and learning.

One positive example highlighted in the publication relates to France: when a report in the 1980s revealed that the country's prison libraries were badly organized, professional librarians were recruited to help reform the system. These librarians transformed the country’s prison libraries into modern spaces for lifelong learning, with adequate collections and outreach programmes to promote a reading culture among prisoners.

Reading and using a prison library can open up a world beyond the prison bars, allowing prisoners to forget for a time the harsh reality of prison life and providing them with the opportunity to choose their own reading materials in an otherwise extremely restrictive and regulated environment. By offering a variety of reading and learning materials, from easy to expert level and in different languages, prison libraries provide opportunities for lifelong learning, thus improving the chances of reintegration of prisoners on release.

The book was published in English in August 2019. A German translation was launched on the occasion of World Book Day, 23 April 2020, and a Spanish translation will follow this year. A policy brief on the same subject was published in English, French and Spanish in early May.

Download the publication: Lire derrière les barreaux : le pouvoir de transformation des bibliothèques en milieu carcéral