Recently we spoke with Cindy Mclaughlin of the American Prison Data Systems (APDS) about their OverDrive-powered National Corrections Library (NCL), a first of its kind digital library for inmates at correctional facilities across the country. In the short time since the NCL went live they’ve seen great success with prisoners of all ages engaging in digital reading as well as a decrease in violence in the facilities. What follows is her story of adoption and integration of their system.


Describe your situation and why you wanted a digital reading solution?

  • APDS offers a connected Android tablet-based solution to correctional facilities, to bring online education, job training, and rehabilitation to those involved in the criminal justice system.  We work with prisons (minimum and maximum security), jails, probation departments, re-entry facilities, and alternative-to-incarceration programs to service their male, female, juvenile and adult populations.  We partner with best-in-class content providers for our educational/vocational/mental health programming, but create some of our own customized tools to solve specific problems within facilities where there’s no clear third-party answer.
  • CaptureOne of our most exciting home-grown product offerings is National Corrections Library (NCL), powered by OverDrive.  This is a recreational library we’ve curated for inmates with the help of OverDrive staff and prison librarians nationwide.  It’s a powerful addition to our solution, as it solves a range of problems for our client facilities and for the inmates they house.
    • For Facilities, NCL meets the needs of facilities that require filtration of what they feel to be objectionable or unsafe content.  NCL can both replace and augment the paper-based recreational libraries, which
      1. often take up much-needed space and administrative and security staff.
      2. are key vehicles for the distribution of contraband, which promotes increased violence and the consequences that follow (solitary confinement, sentence extensions, cycles of retribution, etc)
      3. struggle to offer ADA-compliant text for the vision-impaired.
    • For Inmates, NCL offers an ever-expanding set of engaging, informative, aspirational, and inspirational titles to inmates at all reading and educational levels.  As literacy is a major problem with our audience, we work especially to bring hi-lo and audio-supported content, that addresses topics of interest for a teen and adult audience, but is written for lower Lexile levels.  NCL lets inmates peruse books in private, at their own pace, and with their own text-size and contrast settings.  This is critical for those who may be:
    • low-literacy
    • checking out mental health or other self-help titles that would reveal an underlying diagnosis or condition or experience they’d like to keep to themselves.
    • students with learning interferences, such as vision impairment or dyslexia

Describe how your set up process has been with Team OverDrive?

Ours is a unique case, as we require both technical security – our users are not allowed to access the main OverDrive website, social media, or any other external website – and a curated book list that’s both engaging to inmates, and non-threatening to our facility clients.

  1. We started by working with the OverDrive sales team to ensure that our site was customized for us, by identifying and eliminating or disabling all offending links.
  2. We then worked to build in layers of access permissions that would allow our adult and juvenile facilities access to age-appropriate and relevant content for both their populations.
  3. Finally, we customized the site with our branding and content, with help from OverDrive’s curators.
  4. On an ongoing basis, we add content to our library based on data about which titles and categories are most popular, and sunset titles and categories that don’t get much traction.  This allows us to spend our funds wisely to ensure engagement and ongoing use by each of our unique audiences.

How have you implemented the service?

APDS offers National Corrections Library to each of our facilities, free, as part of the broad service we provide.  Each of our inmate tablet users has access to NCL.

What type of training have you provided for your staff?

Relevant APDS staff went through a phone- and PPT-based and online training to help us administer our library, and understand the features and tools available to us.

How has the service been received?

NCL has had tremendous acceptance both by our facility clients and the populations they serve.  We’ve had thousands of checkouts across all our users since we launched NCL in September, 2014.  We get ongoing feedback from facility staff, teachers, and inmates themselves with thanks and encouragement to continue this great program.

Any specific examples of how it’s being used?

The Indiana State Department of Corrections uses NCL in a juvenile girls’ maximum security prison.  We’ve watched the girls checking out titles steadily, and increasingly, while violence in the facility has gone down substantially since our solution has been implemented.  Corrections Officers attribute the reduced violence, in part, to increased recreational reading via NCL.