Prisoners Literature Project

Prisoners Literature Project logo: dark gray background, graphic of hand holding book with text "Prisoners Literature Project"



The Prisoners Literature Project is an inclusive, all-volunteer, grassroots nonprofit whose purpose is to encourage reading, the pursuit of knowledge, and self-determination among incarcerated people. By sending free reading materials to those behind bars, PLP aims to foster learning and critical thinking and help prepare people to lead successful lives after incarceration. We believe that all people have a right to read.

We recognize that many incarcerated people lack formal education, and the PLP strives to remedy that by providing books that impart knowledge. We also provide genre fiction because we understand that incarcerated people need to pass the time. Through the books that we send, we demonstrate that there are many possibilities for how to live.

In operation for more than 30 years, our U.S. prison books program has gotten (literally) tons of free books into the American prison system, while staying entirely grassroots. We have no paid employees and 100% of donations go to postage, rent, office supplies and purchase of discount copies of frequently requested books such as dictionaries and vocational materials.

Our volunteers include librarians, social justice activists, students, academics, corporate retirees, anarchists, high school teachers, writers, LGBTQ activists, justice-impacted individuals and their family members, and book lovers from all walks of life. We are united in the belief that everyone has the right to read.

We do this work because most U.S. prisons do not allow incarcerated people to receive books directly from individuals. Instead, books must be sent through pre-approved vendors, usually expensive booksellers or publishers, which is why we partner with Bound Together Books in San Francisco. In many cases, incarcerated folks don’t have anyone on the outside who is willing or able to send books this way. Most people who are incarcerated don’t have Internet access to order books or money to pay for them. Many prison libraries are cash-strapped, with meager offerings. And people in solitary confinement have no access to books outside their cells.

This is where the Prisoners Literature Project steps in. We respond directly to incarcerated folks’ book requests and ship hundreds of good books directly to individuals every week, all entirely free. We keep track of book restrictions for more than a thousand prisons and are part of a network of organizations across the country offering free information resources to those behind bars.

Activists and artists such as Nelson Mandela, Eldridge Cleaver, Jean Genet, Angela Davis, and Mahatma Gandhi have written about the great solace they received from books in prison. Every month, we receive letters from incarcerated folks echoing that same sentiment of appreciation. The American prison industrial complex is frighteningly huge, but with your help, we can continue to make a positive difference for thousands of people every year.

The Prisoners Literature Project is fortunate to work in close partnership with independent booksellers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and receive contributing support from individuals and foundations. READ MORE