Several times a year, Regina lawyer Michael Tochor of MLT Aikins LLP and Saskatchewan Chief Justice Robert G. Richards tote dozens of large boxes filled with gently used books to the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, where they are circulated to inmates.
This project began shortly after Chief Justice Richards visited the Regina jail and noticed that inmates had no access to reading materials. Books, he was told, had been banned because of security concerns; hardcovers could be used as weapons, and books could be used to transport contraband into the institution. Undeterred, the Chief Justice suggested that he could resolve the security concerns by bringing in books himself. With that, he gained approval to bring in softcover books and magazines, and The Book Project was launched.
Shortly thereafter, Michael jumped onboard in Regina. “It’s not easy to serve time in an institution like that, and there’s lots of slow time”, Michael stated, “and if there’s no interesting or meaningful way to fill that time, nothing good can come from it.” He added, “…if they can develop reading skills and develop their reading to a level that they didn’t have before, I have to believe that’s going to help them later in life.” (Quoted in Regina Leader-Post)
The Book Project quickly gained momentum, and was soon joined by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Brian Scherman and Provincial Court Judge Hugh Harradence who began making similar deliveries to the Saskatoon and Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centres.
The Book Project has now been running for five years, with more than 25,000 books and 7,600 magazines being delivered. In Regina, Michael and Chief Justice Richard have personally delivered 13,600 books and 6,600 magazines. Book types range from fiction to self-help or general knowledge, although westerns seem to be popular with inmates, as well as National Geographic magazines.
Like any story about hope for change, there has been positive feedback. In one instance, it was reported that an inmate who displayed behavioral issues started reading and, as a result, his behaviour changed for the better. Another inmate, with limited reading skills, soon improved his skills to the point that he began requesting books by a specific author.
“The only evidence that we’re doing anything is purely anecdotal, but that’s enough for me.” – Michael Tochor on the effect The Book Project has had on inmates.
According to Michael, one of the hopes of those involved in the Project is that access to books will have a positive effect on the inmates not only when they are in the institution, but after they are released as well.