Books Through Bars

Food Not Bombs


New York City Books Through Bars


Freebird Books is temporarily hosting Books Through Bars while ABC No Rio moves towards the construction of a new facility. You can still reach us by voicemail or email through ABC No Rio.

Freebird is located at 123 Columbia Street between Kane and Degraw, in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. From the Bergen F/G stop, or the Borough Hall 4/5 stop, walk along Court Street to Kane, then down Kane to Columbia. Or, take the B61 bus to Freebird's front door.

Here is a map of the area.

We are always looking for new books and used books in good condition on the following:

  • African-American history, especially 20th century
  • Native American history
  • Latin American history
  • Radical politics
  • Social sciences and psychology
  • Dictionaries, thesauruses, and Spanish-English dictionaries
  • Learning world languages
  • How-to (drawing, chess, sign language...)
  • Mayan and Aztec history
  • Memoirs and fiction by people of color
  • Mythology
  • Poetry anthologies

With few exceptions, we want only paperbacks since most prisons do not accept hardcover books, and they are expensive to mail.

We do not take: religious books, including Bibles; legal books (except legal dictionaries); old magazines (besides National Geographic); white supremacist literature or anything advocating racial animosity, sexism or homophobia; business books; encyclopedias; mass market fiction (such as Danielle Steele and Stephen King).

Check out our BookMooch account and send some points our way.

We also need donations of postage stamps in any denomination, and large catalog envelopes and supplies like packing tape and markers.

Want to maintain a Books Through Bars drop box at your student center, or collect books for the project at your workplace? We are always short of certain categories of books. There are other great ways to help get books to prisoners -- get in touch if you're interested in getting involved.


(And click here for links to other groups that deal with prison-related issues.)

By the end of 2006, 2.26 million people were in custody in state and federal prisons and in local jails.1 The vast majority are incarcerated in jails and state prisons. The United States imprisons 737 people per 100,000 in the national population -- a higher rate of imprisonment than in any other country in the world.2

Access to books in prison varies from state to state, partly because nowhere is it legally mandated that prisoners have a right to educational or recreational reading material, including through general library services.

Prisoners were denied access to federal Pell Grants in 1994. Most states eliminated prisoner eligibility for state tuition grants as well, and the number of college programs in prisons went from around 350 in the early 1980s to fewer than 12 by 2001.

New York State contributions to the corrections operating budget surpassed state contributions to SUNY and CUNY systems for the first time in 1994-5. At the time, New York ranked 45th out of 50 states in per capita state appropriations for higher education, even though the state had the fourth highest per capita income in the nation.3

68% of state prisoners have no high school diploma.4 In New York State prisons, there are about 63,000 people total, and 50.4% of them never completed high school.5

In 2000, over 20,000 prisoners in the U.S. were confined in special super-maximum security facilities.6 Many people in all types of institutions are put into solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure. Isolation and sensory deprivation have been shown to exacerbate existing mental illness in some and actually to lead to psychosis in others. In prison, especially in isolated units, reading peopleÍs stories in the form of novels or autobiographies or reading about current events helps stave off social deterioration and dehumanization.

New York State's prison system has the greatest percentage of people in disciplinary segregation, and we have the third largest number of prisoners in all forms of segregated housing (administrative, disciplinary and protective custody) nationwide. The national average of the percentage of state prisoners in disciplinary segregation is 2.6%, while in NY it is 6.7%.7

At least 95% of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point. In 2001, about 592,000 state prisoners were released.8

A study of people released from prisons in Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio showed that participants in education programs were significantly less likely to be re-arrested (57% of non-participants vs 48% for participants), re-convicted (35% vs 27%), and re-incarcerated (31% vs 21%).9

"Any discussion about reentry into society from prison begins with education."
-- Robert Sanchez, former prisoner and current program manager at STRIVE: East Harlem Employment Services10

Most people who write to Books Through Bars tell us that they are indigent and we are their only source of reading material.

1Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006, December 2007

2International Centre for Prison Studies, Prison Brief for United States of America, June 2006

3Dan Macallair, Khaled Taqi-Eddin and Vincent Schiraldi (Justice Policy Institute), New York State of Mind: Higher Education vs. Prison Funding in the Empire State, 1988-1998

4Bureau of Justice Statistics, Educational and Correctional Populations, January 2003

5The Correctional Association of New York, Prisoner Profile, 2006

6Human Rights Watch, U.S. Prisons

72002 Corrections Yearbook, found via The Correctional Association of New York

8Bureau of Justice Statistics, Reentry Trends in the United States, August 2003

9Office of Correctional Education/Correctional Education Association, Three State Recidivism Study, 2001

10"Former Inmates Stress Education" by Herb Boyd. New York Amsterdam News, Jul 22-28, 2004.

Other Organizations

Philadelphia Books Through Bars has set up a neat national map to highlight books-to-prisoners programs all over the United States. (Boston's Prison Book Program includes a link to the latest National Prisoner Resource List).

Prisoners Reading Encouragement Program

The Correctional Association of New York
Programs include Drop the Rock, the Women in Prison Project, and the Juvenile Justice Project

Critical Resistance NYC

Fifth Avenue Committee: Developing Justice Program

Network for Justice: New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty

WBAI: "On the Count"

Real Cost of Prisons

The Sentencing Project

Prison Activist Resource Center Research on the prison industrial complex

Books Through Bars logo

--Prisoners Seeking Books--
Write to us at
c/o Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

For further information,
or to arrange a donation of books:
btb [at]
212.254.3697 ext. 26 (voicemail)

We do not fill requests sent by e-mail.
Please snail-mail your loved one's
request to the above address.

Contributions are tax-deductible.
Make checks payable to ABC No Rio,
and send to:
c/o ABC No Rio
156 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
Do NOT make your checks out to Books Through Bars!
Make them to ABC No Rio.

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ABC No Rio: The Culture of Opposition Since 1980