Prison Librarian Lights the Way

Dennice Alexander is the first full-time administrator to oversee the libraries within Arkansas state prison system, which holds more than 14,000 inmates spread among 20 locations. Prior to taking the position Alexander, 61, had never visited a prison.

For the longest time, advisory boards held sway over what books made it inside the double razor-wired fences. But, in recent years, Alexander has approved the books and magazines that bring light inside a system once deemed by federal courts to be a "dark and evil world."

"They're trying to rehabilitate themselves," Alexander said. "We have (prisoners) leaving everyday and some of them have been in since they were 17, 16, and now they're 35 and 40. The world has changed, so they don't know about Internet or banking."

Alexander receives only $20,000 a year to purchase books, magazines and newspapers for inmates. And she's working to create late fees for overdue books, possibly charging an inmate's commissary account if a borrowed book stays out past two weeks. As much as 90 per cent of all books in circulation at the prison units come from donations.

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