A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Literacy For Incarcerated Teens

by on August 23, 2016

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT), a New York-based nonprofit, knows firsthand how limited resources have been to support literacy in New York’s juvenile detention facilities. It also knows how important literacy and reading can be in the lives of incarcerated youth. In the United States, 250,000 juveniles[1] do not have regular access to library services while either incarcerated or detained; since 2009, LIT has supported and funded resources to thousands of these young people.

LIT has supported the school libraries at Belmont Academy, Passages Academy, and the school library collections at New York City’s juvenile justice centers and works with the Office of Children and Family Services at Brookwood residential facility in upstate New York. More recently, LIT helped fund magazine subscriptions for the School Program for Incarcerated Youth at the Nassau County Correctional Center on Long Island.

LIT gives these teens what they need and want—real and relevant programs and resources. What might have been boring becomes interesting and the teens become engaged in both learning and self-improvement.

LIT has funded two youth programs at Rikers Island—Drama Club and writing workshops facilitated by author, Robert Galinsky. In addition, recognizing the shift in alternatives to incarceration, LIT most recently supported Prison Writes, a writing program which supports literacy efforts working in the Closer to Home programs in New York City.

Many young adult authors have visited LIT sponsored programs over the years: Walter Dean Meyers, Tonya Bolden, Coe Booth, Matt De La Peña, Greg Neri, Lauren Oliver, Clay McLeod Chapman, and Torrey Maldonado. There is no substitute for meeting an author in person! So it was no surprise when the Empire Book Center and New York State Library Association presented the Empire State Book Award to LIT at its New York State Writers Hall of Fame Gala on June 7, 2016, in New York City.[2] At the Award presentation, LIT was praised in its efforts “to improve the ability and desire of incarcerated youth to read, to offer encouragement, and motivation to seek a better future.”

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens continues to expand its efforts in providing much needed supplementary services and resources in the face of shrinking budgets and resources. LIT board members, former teachers, librarians, authors, social workers, and juvenile justice advocates all agree that literacy can lift incarcerated teens from their present lives to changed lives, and LIT wants to support that transformation. LIT knows change is possible and literacy can make it happen.

For more information, contact LIT4teens@gmail.com

[1] Neelum Arya, “State Trends: Legislative Victories from 2005 to 2010 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System” (report, Washington, DC: Campaign for Youth Justice, 2011), 7.
[2]Literacy for Incarcerated Teens to be Recognized,” Empire State Center for the Book, News, 2016.

Tags: , , , ,