unPrison Project Builds Prison-Nursery Libraries

In the past 20 years, the incarceration rate for women has risen 800 percent. And of the current more than 200,000 women currently sitting in U.S. prisons, 80 percent of them are mothers — that's more than 2.3 million minor children whose parent is in prison. The effect this can have on the next generation is massive. The Children's Book Council and unPrison Project have teamed up to build prison-nursery libraries, which will use children's books and reading to bond children with their incarcerated mothers.

The final day of CBC's Children's Book Week lands on Mother's Day this year, and to honor this day, the CBC will help to build brand new libraries for the unPrison Project. In addition, 17 of the CBC's member publishers will donate copies of 45 diverse children's book titles for ages 0 to 18 months for each library, along with interactive reading guides. These prison-nursery libraries will be places for incarcerated mothers to read with their small children or aloud to their babies, and then the children will have the opportunity to take copies of their favorite books home. The project urges people to remember that many times, these books can be the first gift an incarcerated woman is able to give her children. According to Deborah Jiang-Stein, founder of the unPrison Project:

Reading together can be one of the most powerful ways for mothers and their children to stay connected during a prison sentence, but visiting rooms in prisons are vastly underserved and books are hard to come by. These prison-nursery libraries will fill that void for mothers and their babies.

Jiang-Stein offers a crucial perspective on this issue, as she was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother. With her project, she has made it a life mission to empower women young and old who are in prison. The unPrison Project uses peer mentoring and self-reflection to ensure these women are inspired and cultivate critical thinking and life skills to help them along their life journey.

But it's not just CBC that can help. You can also donate money or help raise awareness using the project's UP with Books campaign. Every $250 that's raised will bring 10 mothers in prison children's books to read with their visiting kids, a discussion guide to help facilitate conversation among older children, and a journal for each mother to track her experiences and write out her thoughts.