Technology on the Inside: Inside the Juvenile Justice System

The Boston Public Library (BPL) has had a partnership with the Department of Youth Services (DYS) since 2010. DYS is the state agency that serves teens who are incarcerated and there are two locations in the Metro Boston region that houses up to 90 young men in seven different units. DYS doesn’t have a formal library and for the past seven years each month two BPL Teen Librarians visit each of the units and provides library services by providing books-those books are booktalked to engage the teens and teens may also make specific requests. Each month approximately 70 books from BPL are checked out along with upwards of 30 of those that are specific requests. January 2018 marks the expansion of this program and brings technology into DYS provided by the public library as a pilot program. There are significant limitations for teens in DYS especially with technology and this type of program isn’t routine in most juvenile detention settings.

Twelve Kindles were purchased with up to 40 popular titles downloaded on each. The titles are recreational and popular in nature and many of the titles are only available in hardcover. Two units were designated as sites for this pilot year. Every other month one Teen Librarian goes to the two units and meets with the teens and talks about the books, some methods of accessing books and teaches tips in digital literacy with the Kindles. The teens have access to the Kindles in their classrooms every day and as this is a pilot program input from them is crucial as are new titles to add on the Kindles. The program has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) and responsibilities are expected from both organization such as keeping statistics of usage, surveying the teens usability and likability of the titles and the Kindles themselves. The hope is after the pilot year the program can expand into other units as well as expanding the program itself to incorporate the existing applications on the Kindles like Kahn Academy into exposing teens to these applications.

The existing BPL lending program gives teens a freedom of choice with their ability to choose the books they want to read, this program gives them even more of a choice by having multiple titles on one device that the teens can access as well as informally teaching them digital literacy. Programs like this with technology aren’t something that a lot of public libraries are doing with juvenile justice systems in the United States.

This is a pilot program and as such will be evaluated to see the success of the program. One of the expectations of the program is sharing out about the program, input from the Boston Public Library Teen Librarians, teens that utilize the program and staff at Department of Youth Services. Stay tuned for more YALSA Blog posts on this innovative program.

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