In some Texas county jails, the only reading material is well-worn adventure and romance novels, and in others, the Bible is the sole reading material. People in jail need more than that, if they are to have a productive and healthy life on the outside. People held pretrial—that is, not yet convicted but held for lengthy periods—are particularly subject to depression, and reading can help them contend with the stressful atmosphere of jails.
A generous donor gave Texas Jail Project funds to start a pilot project to provide quality books free of charge—mostly in educational and self-help categories—to small and medium-sized jails. So far, 12 jails have signed up for Jail Reads, and four have declined. The books must be soft cover and shipped directly from the publisher or Amazon, to a jail administrator or staffer. The goal for this pilot program is to ship books to 30 jails.
For the most part, the Jail Reads program focuses on counties with low income levels, where the county provides only enough funds for basic necessities in the jail. The 245 county jails in Texas are not required to have a library like state prisons are. And many people do not have families who can afford to order books for them, so our program is especially important to inmates who are indigent.
Experience has taught us that good reading helps incarcerated people improve their reading and literacy skills at the same time that they gain information and support.