White Paper on Technology in Carceral Facilities

As part of San Francisco Public Library’s “Expanding Information Access for Incarcerated People” grant project, we have recently released a white paper titled “Technology in Carceral Facilities: Trends, Limitations, and Opportunities for Libraries.”

This white paper covers relevant literature published from January 2020 to December 2022. It glosses emerging and continuing trends in the use of technology in carceral facilities. It provides an overview of trends in recent publications in library and information science and similar fields about how technologies inside shape people’s experiences of incarceration and reentry. It closes by highlighting work by libraries that may indicate possibilities for supporting incarcerated people and people in reentry through making library services and programs that utilize technology available within facilities, and by offering some examples of how libraries can support patron’s digital literacy development after they are released.

The white paper is freely available online at

Technology in Carceral Facilities: Trends, Limitations, and Opportunities for Libraries.”

or through the grant page at

Expanding Information Access for Incarcerated People.”

Content Restrictions and Media Review in Prisons

ITHAKA S+R has released a report that brings together and analyses the content restrictions and media review practices of prison systems in the United States. The post announcing the report highlights that:

  • Key terms and language are common across DOC censorship policies. Despite strong similarities in language and framing, however, the policies and procedures related to common terms differ greatly across states.
  • Forty-two of 51 media review directives limit the vendors from which materials can be purchased. This type of “content-neutral” restriction limits the availability of information and may increase costs and logistical burdens on higher education in prison programs, students, and autodidactic learners.
  • Forty-four of 51 media review directives have clauses addressing and limiting access to sexually explicit or obscene content. The reasons for this are historically complicated, but these policies are currently intended to maintain an environment free of sexual harassment. In some cases, however, these policies explicitly target LGBTQ+ content. Such policies can affect access to educational materials from art history and biology to contemporary queer literature.
  • The legal power of DOC to surveil and censor is grounded in the protection of “security, good order, or discipline.” In practice, the term frequently serves as a catchall, providing broad latitude to censor media. This covers a startling amount of ground, justifying everything from banning books on community organizing or union history, to prohibiting access to fantasy novels that have maps of fictional lands.
  • Content protection clauses or carve outs exist and primarily allow access to educational or culturally significant content. While such provisions ostensibly allow access to publications that might otherwise be censored, the way these policies are framed often narrowly limits application.
  • Publication review and censorship appeals processes are addressed to some extent in nearly all policies. However, appeals processes often inequitably burden people who are incarcerated and the programs that seek to serve them.

The full report includes a media review policy that can be used to craft a more transparent and less arbitrary review process for materials.

Interested in learning more about banned books inside of prisons? The Marshall Project has recently released a new tool for viewing banned books lists by state.

I am guest editor on a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy on the topic of carceral systems and censorship. Look out for the issue later this year!

Recent Juvenile Detention Resources

At one point, there was a proliferation of activity undertaken by librarians working with incarcerated youth, some of which is represented in the Library Services for Youth in Custody website in the Internet Archive, and the continuing In the Margins book award.

While engagement with this area of library service seems to have diminished, there are still great–and recent–materials available to support librarians beginning these services.

Two recent publications I’ve come across are Jess Snow’s Outreach Services for Teens: A Starter Guide (ALA, 2020), which contains example related to beginning and continuing library services in a juvenile detention and Kristin Zeluff’s chapter titled “Collection development policies in juvenile detention center libraries” in Dawkins’ Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries (ABC-CLIO, 2021).

It’s exciting to see that librarians are still thinking deeply about these services!

Banned Books Week

From PEN America: “Over the course of the past year, PEN America’s Right to Read in American Prisons Project focused on ways prisons and jails across the country restricted access to literature and educational materials through book censorship and state book ban lists. During PEN America’s recognition of Banned Books Week, we are excited to share several essays written by incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and allied people on the crucial role of books in their lives.”

The series is available at