Here’s a Hill East Branch of DC Public Library You Don’t Know About
by Larry Janezich
DC Public Library has partnered with the DC Department of Corrections and established a branch library in the DC Jail. Capitol Hill Corner visited the jail and talked to the library staff on Monday afternoon.
The library is housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility, one of the two main wings of the jail – the other wing being the Central Detention Facility.
The Correctional Treatment Facility has been in operation since 1992 as a specialized medium security institution. Prior to February 1, 2017, DC Jail was run by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), the largest for-profit correctional facility operator in the country, and a company plagued with a history of bad – even abusive – management practices. On March 31, 2017, CoreCivic’s contract expired and Mayor Bowser announced the DC Department of Corrections, headed by Director Quincy Booth, would take over the jail. The ReThink Justice-DC coalition was one group who opposed the city contracting with private corrections corporations.
One of the benefits for inmates that came with government control was a brand new library which opened in the Correctional Treatment Facility last March. The jail had an existing law library comprised of mostly legal reference books and a few leisure reading books which were transferred to the DC Jail’s Central Detention Facility from Lorton Prison when it closed in 2001.
At the end of March the Library was moved to its present location in the Correctional Treatment Facility. In the new library, access to legal research was provided through 8 computer work stations featuring LexisNexis instead of legal code reference books. In addition, staff stepped up the total amount of material available and diversified it. The Library now boasts about 10,000 books including fiction, nonfiction, large print, Spanish, etc. Audiobooks are on the way which will benefit illiterate and visually challenged patrons.
The library is staffed by contractors through the DC Public Library. Librarian Danielle Zoller said that in addition to a full time librarian, there is one full-time associate librarian and one part time reference worker. Asked to explain the operation of the library, Zoller said that each of the DC Jail housing units gets access to the library once a week – women in the morning for two hours and men in the afternoon for two hours. She says that the library can serve up to 40 patrons at a time, though the actual numbers vary from day to day. Patrons can browse the stacks and check out materials two at a time. They do not have access to the internet. Zoller says “what’s popular on the street is popular here,” and that what the library doesn’t have, we can ask DC Public Library to purchase, noting that “we order books continuously.”
For patrons who can’t come to the library – juveniles, those in a witness protection program, and those in restricted housing units – the library goes to them via library cart.
The DC Jail branch is a standalone library that does not share with other libraries. Staff interacts with the other 27 branch libraries via listservs.
Library patron and work detail guide Joel Casto’n stressed the usefulness of having legal resources searchable by jurisdiction for patrons researching cases relevant to their own. He also cited how critical access to Microsoft Word and appropriate legal templates are for patrons, not only to help prepare court documents, but also to assist in re-entry planning. The Department of Corrections emphasizes the importance of inmates leaving DC Jail with a re-entry plan.