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No page unturned: prison reading spikes in lockdown

Last published on 22 Dec 2020 in Media Releases

Inmates have turned into bookworms since the COVID-19 lockdown, with a 25 per cent increase in the number of books borrowed from NSW prison libraries.

In the first nine months of this year, there were about 42,800 books checked out, compared to 34,300 books in the same period last year.

Corrective Services NSW library services manager Rebecca Bollen Manalac said inmates had been reading fantasy, thrillers and romance novels to pass the time as the pandemic saw some programs and prison activities suspended.

“Just like in the community, it’s been a challenging year for the inmates, and books have been helping them escape from the world, even if for a few hours,” Ms Bollen Manalac said.

“Overall men prefer fantasy and thrillers and the women are more likely to pick up a romance book - Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele are popular authors with female inmates.

“While books are entertaining, they’re also an important behaviour-management tool in our prisons by ensuring offenders remain engaged.

“Access to books including non-fiction and legal texts is also important for their rehabilitation, improving their literacy, keeping them in touch with the world, and assisting them with skills to prepare them post-release.”

Assistant Commissioner Governance and Continuous Improvement Carlo Scasserra said inmates had about 140,000 titles to choose from but not all books made the cut.

“The texts are vetted to ensure there is no literature available to inmates that could lead to any security or safety risks, and true crime is banned,” Mr Scasserra said.

“Our library-services staff, clerks and officers managing prison libraries have done a great job of ensuring offenders have the resources they needed during a tough year.”

Top three books for male inmates in 2020:
1. A Storm of Swords, the third book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by late Swedish author Stieg Larsson.
3. Killing Floor, Lee Child’s debut novel featuring the Jack Reacher character.

Top three books for female inmates in 2020:
1. The Gunslinger, a fantasy novel by Stephen King.
2. The Happiest Refugee, a memoir charting the journey of comedian Anh Do.
3. The Guardians, a legal thriller by John Grisham.

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