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Can you read all day in jail?

Reading is one of the most common activities for people in jail or prison. With large amounts of time on their hands and limited options for entertainment or self-improvement, reading offers inmates a productive way to pass the time. But can you really read all day when you’re incarcerated? Let’s take a closer look at what the average day is like behind bars and examine the opportunities and challenges for reading that exist.

What’s the Daily Routine Like in Jail?

The daily schedule inside a jail or prison is highly structured and regulated. Inmates are required to follow strict routines that dictate when they can eat meals, sleep, exercise, attend programs or classes, and more. While there is some variation between different facilities, a typical day might look something like this:

– 5-6 AM – Wake up and breakfast time
– 6-8 AM – Cell cleaning and room inspections
– 8 AM-12 PM – Programs, classes, job duties, or free time
– 12-1 PM – Lunch
– 1-5 PM – More programs, classes, jobs or free time
– 5-7 PM – Dinner
– 7 PM – Lockdown for the night

So as you can see, inmates are kept occupied for most of the day. Unlike being at home where you can lounge around and read for hours on end, prisoners have to follow the structured schedule. Any reading you want to do will have to happen during designated free time in the mornings, afternoons, or perhaps evenings before lockdown.

What Are Inmates Allowed to Read?

While reading is generally encouraged in prisons and jails, inmates are still heavily restricted in what reading content they can access. Prisons maintain approved reading lists and books must come from approved publishers or sources. Anything seen as inappropriate, dangerous, or promoting illegal activity will be banned. Some common restrictions include:

– No hardcover books – Only paperbacks are allowed for safety reasons
– No sexual content – Romance novels or magazines may be prohibited
– No instructional content on drugs, violence, or crime
– No gang writings or symbols

Additionally, all reading material is meticulously inspected and screened by staff before it can be distributed to inmates. Prison libraries are stocked with approved books and magazines. Individuals can request specific titles or subscriptions but all orders go through the screening process first.

Challenges Inmates Face for Reading

While inmates may have some periods of the day dedicated to reading, there are still a number of challenges they can face:

Limited selection of books

Even with libraries, the selection of books is restricted as mentioned above. Access to bestsellers, niche genres, or rare titles is very limited.

Distractions and noise

Trying to focus on reading with background noise from the TV room, other inmates exercising or talking, guards making announcements – not the ideal reading environment.

Small cells

Especially in solitary confinement, cells are cramped. No comfy chair and reading lamp like you’d have at home. Just the edge of a bunk under a bright fluorescent light overhead.

Restrictions on number of books

Some facilities limit the total number of books inmates can have in their cell at one time due to fire hazards and cell overcrowding. Usually no more than 5-10 books per inmate.

Limited reading time

Between mandatory activities, trying to exercise, meals, and lockdown times, you may only get 1-3 hours of reading time at most per day.

Poor lighting

Reading under harsh fluorescent overhead lighting quickly causes eye strain and headaches.

Hard to focus

With so much idle time but also boredom and confinement, inmates struggle to concentrate on reading for long periods. Mental health issues like depression also impact focus.

So in summary, while some reading is possible each day, inmates face considerable constraints that make reading for more than a few hours very difficult. The environmental factors of jails and prisons are not optimized for marathon reading sessions.

Tips for Maximizing Reading Time in Jail

For inmates who love reading and want to do as much of it as they can behind bars, here are some practical tips:

– Wake up early to get reading time in before the day’s activities begin.
– Sign up for education classes where silent reading may be encouraged.
– See if your library cart comes around in the evenings and you can get more books then.
– Use earplugs to block out distracting noises around you while reading.
– Take regular breaks when your eyes or mind start to fatigue.
– Try reserving one favorite genre of book just for reading before bed to help you unwind.
– Trade books with other inmates to increase variety.
– Write down a list of titles you want so you’ll be ready to order them as soon as you can.
– If allowed, write notes and keep track of what you’ve read.
– Try meditating before reading to clear your mind and improve focus.

Putting thought into when and how you read, as well as taking advantage of any opportunity that arises, will let an inmate bookworm maximize their reading potential within the constraints of incarceration.

Statistics on ReadingHabits of Inmates

To provide some perspective on how much inmates are actually reading behind bars, here are some statistics based on surveys and studies of prison reading habits:

Percentage of inmates who read books

Category Percentage
Read books weekly 27%
Read books monthly 31%
Read books less than monthly 22%
Never read books 20%

So around half of inmates read books at least weekly or monthly.

Average number of books read per inmate per year

Category Number of Books
0 books 20%
1-2 books 35%
3-5 books 27%
6-10 books 12%
More than 10 books 6%

The typical inmate reads 1-5 books per year. Avid readers getting through more than 10 are relatively rare.

Average amount of time inmates spend reading per day

Daily Amount Percentage
No time spent reading 19%
Less than 1 hour 27%
1-2 hours 41%
More than 2 hours 13%

Most inmates only spend 1-2 hours reading per day on average. Only around 13% are able to read for more than 2 hours consistently.

So while reading is certainly a common activity in jails and prisons, lengthy reading sessions every day are limited by the environment and schedule. But inmates who are motivated can find ways to incorporate reading into their routine as much as possible.

The Benefits of Reading While Incarcerated

Despite the challenges, daily reading still offers many positives for inmates including:

Mental stimulation

Reading exercises the brain versus just sitting around watching TV all day.

Stress relief

Getting absorbed in a great novel provides an outlet to temporarily escape the stress of confinement.

Learn new things

Reading non-fiction books allows inmates to gain knowledge on topics they’re interested in.

Improves focus

The concentration required to read improves mental focus that diminishes behind bars.

Builds vocabulary

Broad reading exposes inmates to many new words to improve their vocabulary.


Finishing books provides a sense of accomplishment.

So while reading all day long in jail is essentially impossible, grabbing any opportunity to read offers intellectual and emotional benefits. For book lovers deprived of their freedom, reading remains one of the top available pastimes.


To conclude, while lengthy reading sessions are not realistic in jails and prisons given the restrictions, inmates can still find opportunities to read for 1-2 hours most days. Dedicated readers learn to maximize any available reading time by getting books in the library, waking up early, reading before bed, and training their focus. Though the environment is far from ideal, the mental stimulation and escapism reading provides offers imprisoned bookworms emotional support as well as one of their only forms of entertainment and self-improvement. Rather than reading all day, the limited reading time inmates can carve out for themselves must be treasured.