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'They have all this untapped potential': First state library for incarcerated youth to open in January

At Echo Glen Children's Center, a state library will soon open for some of Washington’s incarcerated youth.

SNOQUALMIE, Wash. — The first state library for incarcerated youth will open at Echo Glen Children’s Center next month.

Felice Upton, the assistant secretary for juvenile rehabilitation, said at any given time the state has about 450 youth at its facilities.

"We have two secure facilities, eight partial confinements as well as parole services for the state of Washington,” said Upton.

Echo Glen Children's Center, the juvenile detention center in Snoqualmie, is where Upton has been on a mission because of something she learned at her previous job with the state's Department of Corrections.

"I watched the transformations that were able to happen through having a library,” said Upton who added that the library at the women's prison was unlocking protentional in people.

When Upton arrived at Echo Glen Children’s Center, she said the same services were not available.

"There's no human in the library and there's nobody to connect with kids and teach them that they can find and lose themselves in a book,” Upton said.

Upton reached out to Institutional Library Services (ILS), which agreed that there was a need for a full-time, experienced librarian to be on campus.

A partnership between the Department of Children, Youth and Families, the Secretary of State’s Office, and Washington State Library, ILS is why the first state library for incarcerated youth is about to open.

“We have some federal resources from the Institute of Museums and Library Services that helped us make this happen, both with materials but really primarily with the staff person,” said Sara Jones, the Washington state librarian.

“We did get a really good substantial state funding in the last legislative session,” Jones added. "This investment here and the resources that we're putting into this and hopefully the outcomes that we will see will be able to show that that kind of investment really matters."

"They'll have a full library program. They're talking about a poet laureate,” said Upton. "If we can get kids involved in prosocial activities, they will be less likely to reoffend and they will be less likely to end up in our adult system."

“I think the most powerful change that you can ever see in a person is when they haven't considered themselves a scholar. They didn't know how smart they were, and they have all this untapped potential,” Jones added.

The library will open in January. According to DCYF, the secretary of state is presenting a request for sustained funding of the Echo Glen State Library to the Legislature during the 2023 session.

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