Intersections | Project Read: Serving Incarcerated People and Ex-Offenders

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By Ann Plazek ( | Project Read is a partnership between the Medina County Sheriff’s Department and the Medina County District Public Library.  Is your library outreach department interested in working with your county jail or prison system?  Not sure how you would fund such a project?  Here is how we got started…

Our MCDL Outreach Department approached the superintendent of our county jail about starting a program similar to Storybook Project that was started in Texas.  The goal of the program is to educate incarcerated parents about the programs and services provided by the library that can help them prepare their children for success and then provide them with an opportunity to share a book with their child.

Project READ provides a brief early literacy session for inmates who have children under the age of 7 each month and models story reading strategies such as reading the pictures or dialogic reading.  Inmates are then able to select a book that they can personalize for their child(ren) and are recorded reading the story on an iPad.  The file is transferred to an inexpensive MP3 player which is packaged with the book and other library handouts and delivered either via a deputy or through the mail.

There was great support for the program from the Sheriff and the jail chaplain.  The question then became how could the library find funds to run the program?  Our funding dilemma was solved when the Community Education Officer from the Sheriff’s Department contacted us to let us know of a grant opportunity from the Ohio Department of Criminal Justice that could cover the cost.  What a wonderful solution!  All that the library needed to do was to create the list of materials to be purchased and provide the staffing.

The project morphed from our original intent of solely focusing on early literacy and a positive connection around books for incarcerated families to a greater goal including improved community relations between law enforcement and the community.  With all of the recent news stories portraying officers in a negative light this was a very timely project.

We had planned to mail the books with the recording, but the Sheriff’s Department came up with the idea of having deputies deliver the books so the families might see the officers in a positive light.  To that end the grant also included purchasing sling bags for the book & recording and additional activities for all the children in the household.  The grant also set up monthly “Ask a Cop” programs rotating through each of the 6 branch libraries in the county with the most popular program being the K9 officer.

The experience has been incredible and the inmates are so grateful for this project!

Ann Plazek is the Outreach Manager of the Media County District Library and Current President of the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS)