"This [jail] is the worst situation that you could ever have been in in life, 
but for me, the library is actually one of the best things 
that came out of... this whole ordeal, because reading is now my outlet."

Three inmates showcase their book selections Christina asks the women what they'd like to read


At Open Books, we believe in the power of books to transform lives. That's why we provide literacy programs, including grants of high-quality books, for thousands of Chicagoans each year. 


A few months ago, our Books Department was contacted by the Cook County Sheriff's office. We were told that as part of their new Literacy and Education Initiative, the Department of Corrections wanted to create libraries throughout the 11 facilities of the county jail system, but they were having trouble acquiring enough books that were content-appropriate and in good condition.  


The largest single site pre-trial detention center in the U.S., the Cook County Department of Corrections houses about 9,000 inmates daily and admits approximately 100,000 people each year. The Sheriff's office estimates that 65% of the inmates are functionally illiterate, which means they read at about a 7th grade level or below. Up until now, inmates interested in reading had to rely on gifts of books from employees or families as there was no library within the system, aside from the legally-required law libraries. And that lack of access to books contributed to an ongoing problem: penal institution records show that the chance of inmates returning to prison drops to 16% if they receive literacy help, down from 70% if they do not.


In a very short time, Open Books has provided 6,000 high-quality books to the Department of Corrections and, in the words of Christina Brown, our Book Coordinator, "we plan on giving them many thousands more."


WGN News picked up the story and aired a segment about the D.O.C.'s Literacy and Education Initiative. Watch the video below to see the libraries, hear what the inmates are already saying about the books, and to learn about Sheriff Tom Dart's plan to reduce recidivism and provide increased learning opportunities for inmates. 



P.S. We offer grants of high-quality children's books to classrooms and grants of high-quality adult books to nonprofits (clinics, shelters, community centers, etc) around the city. Does your school or nonprofit need books? Fill out this form!

Open Books is a nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond.