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The Impact of Libraries on Improving Well-Being in Prisons


To examine whether there is an influence on the mental well-being of incarcerated people, the study aimed to investigate library access. An improvement in well-being scores was hypothesized with increased library usage. Two groups were formed with sixty diverse participants. Access to prison library facilities was given to the experimental group, while the control group followed standard prison routines. The assessment of the participants’ well-being was done using The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) after six months. The experimental group showed significantly higher WEMWBS scores in response to positive influence on their well-being through library access, as shown in the results. The value of prison libraries in promoting prisoners’ well-being is highlighted by the study. To include them in comprehensive rehabilitation programs despite some methodological limitations is suggested. To support and expand on these findings, further research is essential.


Incarcerated individuals have demonstrated increased physical and mental health needs compared to the general population, often exacerbated by the isolating nature of imprisonment (Australia’s Prison Dilemma, 2021). The prison environment presents unique challenges to an individual’s physical and emotional health, and it is increasingly clear that a more holistic approach to prisoner care is required to truly address these issues (Garner, 2021). One such approach is the implementation of libraries within prisons. Libraries have historically played a pivotal role in promoting education, literacy, and personal development among various populations. They offer a unique environment that fosters learning, curiosity, and exploration, often serving as an oasis in otherwise tumultuous surroundings. Recent studies have started to examine this potential within the context of the prison environment.

Prison libraries serve as more than just a source of books. They can transform into spaces where prisoners regain a semblance of control, a critical element often lacking in their daily lives (Kroslak, 2019). The exercise of a degree of personal responsibility and independence is possible for visitors. Decisions about what to read, how long to stay, and when to visit enable achieving this. Significant contribution to overall well-being can be made through the addition of value and purpose to daily routines, which provides a sense of autonomy. As hubs for social activities, libraries can connect prisoners and give them a break from the monotony of prison life, as per Garner (2019). Additionally, they can offer access to instructional materials that support prisoners in their preparation for post-release life. Among prisoners, decreased stress levels and increased well-being are probable upon the reduction of boredom. The opportunity for positive social interactions can also contribute to this positive outcome, additionally. Incarcerated individuals’ general well-being can be improved substantially by prison libraries. As noted by Garner in 2019, there is more recognition now for this aspect.

The efficacy of prison libraries on prisoner well-being is limited in empirical investigations, however. The impact of library usage on mental well-being in incarcerated individuals will be quantitatively examined in this study. Using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), the study measures the well-being of prisoners with and without access to library facilities over six months. The study aims to determine if access to library facilities has a positive impact on the mental well-being of prisoners. The hypothesis of the given literature is that prisoners who can utilize library facilities would exhibit higher scores in WEMWBS (Garner, 2021). In addition, it implies that people without access will score lower. By exercising personal choice, engaging in social activities, and breaking away from the monotony of prison life, as anticipated, incarcerated individuals’ mental well-being would be positively influenced. A reduction in recidivism rates could potentially result from this. The potential for transformation of prison libraries and their role in promoting the well-being of incarcerated individuals is hoped to be supported by evidence-based insights from this study. Providing access to educational resources in correctional facilities is important, and it aims to shed light on this, moreover.



From within the prison system, participants numbering sixty were recruited for this study. Individuals within an age range of 18 to 75 years who are incarcerated, representing diverse races and genders, formed the sample. This encompassed individuals of male, female, and transgender genders. Each group had 30 participants. The experimental group comprised 50% of the participants, and so did the control group.


The primary measure in this study was identified as the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). The validated self-report questionnaire known as WEMWBS assesses an individual’s personal well-being. Capturing different features of mental well-being, it consists of 14 positively worded items. A Likert scale was used by the participants to rate each item as requested. By doing this, the agreement level with each statement was indicated. Previous studies have demonstrated the WEMWBS to have good reliability and validity. A useful tool for justice reinvestment approaches in the Australian criminal justice system is indicated by this (Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia, 2023).


It took six months to conduct the study. The experimental group had access to prison library facilities at any time during the study period. The control group differed from this. The experimental group was obliged to register their entry and exit times using a designated sign-in sheet each time they used the library space. Library usage was monitored through this action. The experimental group was provided access to the library facilities. In contrast, the control group did not have access and continued their routine within the prison as they usually did. No additional restrictions or limitations were placed on the activities or access to other prison resources of participants in the control group. The conclusion of the six-month period saw all participants complete the WEMWBS questionnaire, including individuals from both experimental and control groups. After analyzing the questionnaire results, any major distinctions between the two groups were determined. All participants were ensured a consistent context as the questionnaire was administered in a group setting. The questionnaire completion process was clearly explained to the participants. Each item had sufficient response time given in addition to them. The study obtained necessary approvals from relevant authorities and followed ethical guidelines as per the procedure.The mean difference’s estimated standard error is 1 when looking at Scenario 1.

estimated standard error

Providing valuable insights into the precision of mean differences, the estimated standard error of the difference between means for each scenario is crucial. Additionally, it can aid in the determination of statistical significance of observed differences. According to Kaiser’s explanation in 1992, the sentence indicates the expected amount of variability in the differences between Sm1 (experimental group) and Sm2 (control group). The expected discrepancy between the two groups is displayed by it, in other words. The estimated standard error of the difference between means for each scenario provides valuable information regarding the precision of the mean differences. It indicates the amount of variability expected in the differences between the experimental group (Sm1) and the control group (Sm2).

In Scenario 1, the estimated standard error of the difference between means is 1.80. The expected variation of the mean difference between the two groups is around 1, as per suggestion. There are 80 scored units on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). The difference between means has an estimated standard error of 1 in Scenario 2, similarly. An expected variability of around 1 is indicated by 52. Finlay & Bates (2018) reported a mean difference of 52 units. Scenario 3 has an estimated standard error of 2 for the difference between means. A larger expected variability in the mean difference of around 2 is implied by 50 units. The highest estimated standard error of the difference between means is 5 for scenario 4.76. The mean difference between the control and experimental groups displays a noteworthy variability. Scenario 5 has an estimated standard error of the difference between means at 2. The mean difference showed moderate variability, which was demonstrated by 63 (Finlay, 2022) in the results. The highest estimated standard error of the difference between means – or 7 – belongs to Scenario 6, lastly. The mean difference exhibits substantial variability, indicated by 11.

Whether increased participation in the library can improve the well-being of incarcerated individuals was investigated in this study. The researchers surveyed and interviewed a sample group of inmates to achieve this objective. Higher scores on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS) are expected from participants with 6-month access to the library, based on the hypothesis, compared to those without access. The study proved that this was true. The hypothesis (Emasealu & Popoola, 2016) is confirmed by the study’s main findings. The experimental group, having access to the library facilities, scored significantly higher on the WEMWBS. Lower scores were witnessed among the control group that lacked access in contrast. An increase in library participation positively influenced the well-being of incarcerated individuals. Among various populations, including prisoners, libraries have the potential to promote well-being, as highlighted by previous research (Garner, 2021). The current research aligns with this finding. A library environment offers incarcerated individuals a sense of choice, personal responsibility, and independence, according to Kroslak (2019). Contribution to their overall well-being can be made with this. A library setting that offers the opportunity for social interactions and reduces boredom and stress may enhance well-being. Garner (2019) suggests that these factors can further contribute to this enhancement, furthermore.

Recognizing some methodological limitations of this study is of great significance. The relatively small sample size mentioned first may limit the generalizability of the findings to the wider incarcerated population. The study (Brewster, 2014) utilized self-report measures, which may be biased and fail to capture the complete complexity of incarcerated individuals’ well-being. The employment of such measures may have had a limiting effect on the accuracy of the findings, moreover. Addressing these limitations and building upon current findings should be done by future research. More robust results would be provided with a larger sample size. It would also permit subgroup analyses based on demographic factors like age, race, and gender. A more complete comprehension of the impact of library access on incarcerated individuals’ well-being can be obtained by incorporating objective measures like physiological markers or behavioral observations. This would be deemed as a valuable addition, according to the Commission Research Paper on Australia’s Prison Dilemma, 2021.

In conclusion, this study provides evidence that increased participation in the library positively influences the well-being of incarcerated individuals. The findings support the hypothesis and align with previous literature highlighting the transformative potential of libraries in prison environments. Further research is needed to address methodological limitations and explore additional avenues for promoting well-being among incarcerated individuals. By recognizing the value of libraries in prison settings, we can contribute to the holistic care and rehabilitation of individuals within the criminal justice system.


Australia’s Prison Dilemma – Commission Research Paper. (2021).

Brewster, L. (2014). The public library as a therapeutic landscape: A qualitative case study. Health & Place, 26, 94-99.

Emasealu, H. U., & Popoola, S. O. (2016). Information needs, accessibility and utilization of library information resources as determinants of psychological well-being of prison inmates in Nigeria. Brazilian Journal of Information Science: Research Trends10(2).

Finlay, J. (2022). Staff perspectives of providing prison library services in the United Kingdom. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 096100062211338.

Finlay, J., & Bates, J. (2018). What is the Role of the Prison Library? The Development of a Theoretical Foundation. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry5(2), 120–139.

Garner, J. (2021). Exploring the Roles and Practices of Libraries in Prisons: International Perspectives. In Advances in librarianship. Academic Press.

Garner, J. (2019). ‘A Little Happy Place’: How Libraries Support Prisoner Wellbeing. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 68(4), 343–355.

Kaiser, F. E., & and, A. (1992). Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners. Hague : IFLA Headquarters. braries

Kroslak, Lisa. (2019) Books beyond bars: the transformative potential of prison libraries. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

Queensland Productivity Commission. (2020). Inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism: final report.

Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia. (2023).


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