The National Prison Braille Network (NPBN) is a growing group of professionals working in the fields of vision and corrections who are forming partnerships to produce braille materials in prisons across the U.S. Since 2001, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has taken a lead role in developing the network with the primary goal of providing a much needed product for students who are blind in grades K-12—quality braille textbooks.
APH works to develop the working relationships between prison officials—whose goal it is to prepare inmates for reentry into society—and vision professionals, who are primarily focused on obtaining accessible educational materials for braille readers. APH strives to maintain and improve communication among network partners by hosting an annual Prison Braille Forum, managing a website, and also by developing written materials to support the contributions being made by both professionals and inmates working in prison braille programs.
The 2009 Directory of Prison Braille Programs is a detailed report of the individual braille production facilities, including the number of certified transcribers and the types of services performed. Contact information is also listed for the staff–both corrections and vision professionals–who are responsible for the operation of these braille units and who can provide the most up-to-date information.
Guidelines for Starting and Operating Prison Braille Programs was released at the 2009 Prison Braille Forum. This annual meeting is an opportunity for NPBN members and people interested in prison braille programs to meet and discuss common challenges. The Guidelines were developed in partnership with NPBN members, utilizing their collective experiences, recommendations, and successes as the foundation for the writing.
National Prison Braille Network: History and Data
At the time of the first survey conducted by the American Printing House for the Blind in 2002, there were 23 braille production programs operating in correctional facilities across the United States. When the 2009 Directory of Prison Braille Programs was released, 36* prison braille programs operating in 26 states identified themselves as members of the National Prison Braille Network. This growth in the number of participants is not just a response to an increased demand for braille. It also demonstrates how well inmates are being prepared to be productive citizens upon their return to the world outside prison walls. (*Five programs known to be in operation prefer not to be identified or listed. They are included only in the total number of programs.)
Twenty-nine of the 31 braille programs responding to the 2009 survey operate in state prisons, and 2 are under federal jurisdiction. Five programs were in the "building" phase, where inmates are learning braille but not yet contracting to produce it. There were 26 programs reporting "full production" status, and 1 braille facility had experienced significant challenges requiring them to "rebuild."
The first two prison braille programs in the U.S. were established in the 1960s, with a surge of new programs developing during the late 1980s and 1990s as a result of a significant shift in the educational environment of blind students. Prior to this time, the majority of students who were blind received their education in residential schools. Today, however, about 90% of blind students are educated in their local schools. The current practice of selecting textbooks at the local level results in a greater demand for braille transcribers who can provide each blind child with the textbooks he or she needs at the same time as his or her sighted peers—as mandated by federal law.
As of January, 2010, the available data indicated that there were 23 braille programs operating in men’s prisons, 7 in women’s prisons, and 1 program has both male and female transcribers, with a total of about 825 participants (620 men and 205 women). It is expected that these numbers will continue to increase, as each year at the Prison Braille Forum new representatives from different states have participated, expressing an interest in establishing a prison braille program.
A mix of services is provided by prison braille programs, depending on the braille certifications earned by transcribers and the level of financial commitment received for equipment, professional support, and space. In the initial phase of development, prison braille programs typically offer literary braille transcription services. Currently, textbook formatting is offered by 23 prison programs, Nemeth transcription (used for math and science notation) is provided by 20, and 7 have inmates certified in music braille transcription.
About 70% of survey participants (21 programs) offer embossed braille documents. In some cases, the translated files are sent (usually electronically) to a client for this final stage of production. Tactile graphics (raised line drawings) are produced by various methods at 23 facilities. Scanning materials in preparation for translation, conversion of print to large type, and audio recording are examples of related services offered by some prison braille programs.
For more information about the National Prison Braille Network, contact us:
- Nancy Lacewell
APH Director of Government and Community Affairs
Coordinator, National Prison Braille Network
Direct Phone: 502-899-2339
Toll Free: 800-223-1839
- Becky Snider
APH Public Affairs Coordinator
Administrator, National Prison Braille Network
Direct Phone: 502-899-2356
Toll Free: 800-223-1839
© Copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.