NYC Books Through Bars: Volunteering to Uphold Prisoners’ Rights

A Brief Background

NYC Books Through Bars is a society that advocates for the rights of prisoners. The organization is based in the United States and works in prisons in Philadelphia, New York, and surrounding penitentiaries. It was incorporated as a non-profit institution in 2001 and accepted as a 501(c) 3 charity in 2018 (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). It provides humanitarian outreach to individuals in incarcerated centers and donates books for reading and reflection to enhance inmates’ knowledge. The main mandate of this organization is to collect books from publishers, community groups, and well-wishers and match them with the needs of prisoners according to their requests (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). Although these individuals are detained for correctional purposes, the deplorable conditions, violence, and abuse experienced in jails can harden them further, hence the need for interventions through reformative reading and reflection. 

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Operations of the Organization

NYC Books Through Bars engages with people with different views on the U.S. prison system for the success of its operations. The partners include public policymakers, security firms, criminal justice system experts, and the general society. The organization has a team of professionals, especially pro-prison reformists and abolitionists, persuaded by a transformation ideology to advocate for the rights of inmates. Among its members are political activists, students, teachers, authors, and a pool of various experts engaged in different offices (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). Through reading and reflection, prisoners develop inner empowerment, which allows them to improve their situation (Bautze, 2019). Thus, NYC Books Through Bars brings together professionals as volunteers to build a knowledge resource for inmates in various detention centers in the U.S.

Summary of Activities and People

Correctional facilities have limited literature to boost prisoners’ knowledge and literacy levels. NYC Books Through Bars delivers books and other reading materials to convicts as part of prisons’ correctional mandate (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). Prisoners who write letters to the organization appeal for educational resources, such as language books, writing materials, English dictionaries, GED, and math-related textbooks (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). The group organizes its operations within three core models, namely, incarcerated person to incarcerated person, incarcerated person to free world, and the free world to free world programs (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019).

The first model seeks to build lifelines and societies through information sharing and books, while the second method connects inmates with community activists outside prisons. The third approach integrates packing activities and provides an opportunity for volunteers to gather and express their ideologies of activism, reformism, and abolitionism, as well as to develop and implement projects that provide a meaningful stay during jail term (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). The organization has taken an integrated approach to ensure knowledge is disseminated to prisoners and their rights are enhanced as they serve their sentences.

Outline of the Public Policy Areas of Influence

Literacy and access to educational materials are human rights. According to NYC Books Through Bars, prisoners should not be denied access to information since it is a significant constitutional entitlement. It influences public policy in the sectors of access to information for all citizens and prison reforms. The organization builds its reformist approaches by facilitating a culture of reading and connecting with the realities of life as illustrated in the professional publications delivered to convicts. In addition, it encourages prisoners to understand their rights and limitations both during incarceration and upon their release. The organization works closely with partners, such as ABC No Rio and Freebird Books, to advance its book delivery objective.

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Still, it, directly and indirectly, influences policy by widening access to information in prisons and promoting inmates’ knowledge (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). It also helps the public to understand the challenges experienced by prisoners from the letters and proposals they receive from inmates. The organization has helped to repeal New York’s directive 911A, which approved only six vendors to provide 77 books to inmates (Bautze, 2019). Therefore, the organization influences various public policies from education, access to information, rights of prisoners, and adult literacy approaches through its activities and initiatives.

Geographical Location and Contacts

The organization serves a majority of New York correctional facilities and other states. The contacts are:

NYC Books Through Bars
c/o Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

E-mail address: 


Volunteers in the Organization

NYC Books Through Bars is an all-inclusive volunteer organization. It provides training and basic orientation to ensure students and other volunteers understand its purpose and activities. The role of the volunteers is to open and read letters, match inmates’ requests with correct materials, and pack books for deliveries (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019). The organization operates on Mondays from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm and Sundays from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Occasionally, it opens on Wednesdays between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm, depending on schedules and planned activities. Volunteers are encouraged to join and bring heavy packaging bags, which are ideal for carrying books, to various centers (NYC Books Through Bars, 2019).



Bautze, A. (2019, January 10). How NYC Books Through Bars is bringing books to inmates. Shareable. Retrieved from

NYC Books Through Bars. (2019). Retrieved from

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