Choose Privacy Week 2014: Privacy Issues for Incarcerated Youth


by Kelly Czarnecki
Teen Librarian
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

We might not think too often about privacy issues in regards to the incarcerated. Why should they be online anyway? In most cases, they’re not. However, in some places they are. In my experience for instance, I have provided outreach as a public Librarian to juvenile offenders and we have been able to access the Internet for various purposes. While there is of course the initial hurdle of getting staff on board and structures in place for the incarcerated to access the Internet period, this post will focus on privacy issues once they are able to be online which hopefully goes to say it is possible, and these are some things to consider while figuring out what content could be a part of their experience.

While most of us that work in libraries encourage youth to practice safe habits on the Internet, being incarcerated adds another level. While where they are at is obviously a very big part of their life, it’s important we ask ourselves our responsibility in protecting their privacy from them being associated with being in jail or prison.

For example, in 2012, I helped facilitate a content creation program that was funded by the MacArthur Foundation, where juvenile offenders were able to access various sites online for the purpose of authoring information and interacting with one another as well as teens in another state who were also incarcerated. They used Voice Thread to learn how to leave constructive comments on a post one of their peers in the group uploaded. All of which are very useful skills to have if someone has never experienced this before. One of the programs we used was Bitstrips Comics. With each site, the teens were encouraged to create content based on a choice they had to make-preferably nothing that had anything to do with why they were incarcerated. When working with Bitstrips, one of the teens, aged 18, decided to illustrate what he did to get himself arrested. As librarians, we felt it was our responsibility to have a conversation with him regarding his privacy, as he was pretrial. He felt he wanted to keep the post live and wanted the content to stay.

In another program, I worked with youthful offenders to add content to a podcast called Turn it Up Teen Radio in 2014. The teens reported on the topic of bullying. The librarian at the jail asked that the recorded voices of the teens be disguised. Since there are voice effects for Garageband, they were able to choose their preference and read their researched piece from there.

Sometimes we might not think that those who are incarcerated deserve privacy online or even have that as a concern on our radar of them being content creators. When we think of it in terms of what skills they are building that are useful for future employment or other exploration, and understand that there are ways to protect their privacy for when they are no longer incarcerated, it makes sense to help find the best way to do so.

Kelly Czarnecki, Teen Librarian for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, has worked with teens in libraries for over ten years. She was the editor for the gaming column in School Library Journal for many years and is currently the YALSA liaison for the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee.


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