This Nonprofit Helps Inmates Sharpen Their Literacy Skills

This Nonprofit Helps Inmates Sharpen Their Literacy Skills

By Elizabeth Lee , Oct 30th 2017


The Claremont Forum's Prison Library Project promotes literacy development and personal growth.

Literacy growth and development is important no matter what your age. Believe it or not, the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy has determined about 14% of our country's adults cannot read — that's 32 million people! A similar study was published 10 years ago by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Research and Improvement. It discovered that adults in prison were far more likely than those in the population as a whole to be at a lower literacy level.

The Claremont Forum's Prison Library Project (PLP) is working to change that. This nonprofit serves the city of Claremont and its neighbors by promoting individual and social well-being through education, the arts, and wellness programs. The Prison Library Project's mission is to provide free reading materials to inmates nationwide. Their ultimate mission? "[We] recognize the value of literacy development through active engagement with books. Our goal is to promote literacy, personal responsibility, reflection, and growth."

The PLP receives more than 300 letters a week from inmates across 600 state and federal prisons and detention centers throughout the country requesting reading materials. The organization is able to answer 70% of those letters with books! Within a year, PLP mails over 15,000 packages of books to individual inmates, prison librarians, educators, and chaplains.

How do they keep up with such a high volume of letters and turn out thousands of packages in response? Thanks to great management and also tons of amazing volunteers. Two of those volunteers, Linda and Joyce, come in at least once a week for several hours to help out however is needed - whether that's writing return labels or selecting the books to be packaged. Both women have been volunteering with the Claremont Forum for several years because they're not only avid readers and book lovers themselves, they also recognize the immense value this program provides to inmates.

Joyce puts it simply: “I think this is wonderful. That’s why I’m volunteering.”

Retired librarian Linda noted that the prisoners want their free time to be better spent. On why the prisoners reach out to PLP, Linda said, "They don’t have libraries or the prisoners just have a lot of time.” Thanks to Claremont Forum, their free time becomes so much more beneficial and they don't have to worry about a lack of resources.

In addition to selling books at weekly farmer's markets, the organization also holds large $1 book sales in the community twice a year. This not only provides the community with books at affordable costs, but ultimately provides the organization with funds that allow them to put more books into the hands of inmates.

The Claremont Forum has worked with BookPal for 4 years to purchase their most requested book: the dictionary! Inmates are often trying to learn and gain educational milestones like their GED, so dictionaries come in handy. BookPal offers a wide selection of dictionaries in bulk. Browse some of our top picks for dictionaries here!


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This post was co-written by Elizabeth Lee, the Marketing Manager at BookPal, and Sydney Moorhead, the Product Specialist at BookPal. Sydney is currently reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and Elizabeth is reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

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