Newly-appointed Public Defender Manohar Raju is committed to continue to improve the circumstances for our clients, not only post-jail, but also during their time in custody.
That’s why we are excited to announce a new partnership with the San Francisco Public Library’s Jail and Reentry Services program (JARS). This program circulates books to people who are incarcerated in San Francisco’s three county jails. Librarians visit each section of the jails regularly with an ever-changing collection of about 250 books. They estimate that after being checked out, books change hands up to 20 times before being checked back in to the librarians, who fulfill book requests from their patrons as often as possible.
Our office will be strengthening its ties to this program and expediting the ability of our staff to get books into the hands of their clients. We will be communicating directly with SFPL whenever our clients request certain books and we will also be recommending books that our clients might want to read.
“One of the most positive things about this program is that it allows us to interact with our clients intellectually, not just about their cases,” said Raju.
The importance of having quality reading material in jail cannot be underestimated. Just ask Steph Liebb, a former “lifer” who now works in our office as a paralegal. He describes what it was like to be in jail with few resources.
“You are pretty much confined to a cell 24-7,” he said. “So reading is really the only outlet available to take your mind off the stress of fighting your case. In the situation I was in, there wasn’t access to TV or radio or even newspapers on a regular basis. Having a book is something precious in that environment.”
Steph, who spent time in the LA County Jail and then San Quentin, particularly remembers being impacted by Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and Memoirs from the Women’s Prison by Nawal El Saadawi.
Librarians from the JARS program order multiple copies of books, which Liebb says is particularly advantageous. “This way you can get many people involved reading and discussing the book at the same time,” he said. “Everyone can be reading and talking about it.”
“We hear regularly that access to new, relevant books is having a profound impact on the patrons inside,” said Rachel Kinnon, manager of the JARS program. “We hope that their positive experience with the library inside will lead them to become life-long library users on the outside, as well.”
In addition to books, the librarians also answer reference questions by mail from inmates.
“We are so grateful for the JARS program and are excited to be working more closely with the library,” said Raju. “Books unlock invisible doors. They educate, entertain, elicit emotions, and are a vital lifeline for those who are in custody.”