ACT News

Fantasy novels, prison memoirs the only escape for Canberra inmates

With nowhere else to hide, the only form of escape for Canberra's convicted crooks is found in the pages of the 5000 books which line the jail's library shelves.

The most popular books at the Alexander Maconochie Centre's library have offered an insight into the literary predilections of the capital's inmates.

The library inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
The library inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre.  Photo: Jay Cronan

It would appear the darker side of life still prevailed inside, with the most popular books in the genres of fantasy, spy, thriller, horror and historical fiction, ACT Corrections has revealed.

Inmates particularly liked to get lost in works of fiction made up of multiple volumes, such as George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which spawned the cult television show Game of Thrones.

The selection of library books at Canberra's only jail aims to promote life-long learning.
The selection of library books at Canberra's only jail aims to promote life-long learning.  Photo: Jay Cronan

The most popular fiction authors in the past six months included British thriller writer Lee Child, whose novels follow the adventures of former US military policeman Jack Reacher.

Political thrillers by Vince Flynn and fantasy fiction from authors Raymond E. Feist, Trudi Canavan and Kylie Chan also flew off the shelves.   


When they weren't absorbed in fiction, inmates most commonly turned to other accounts of life on the inside through prison memoirs, as well as books about art and religion.

It wasn't all entertainment and escapism for detainees, with many taking the opportunity to brush up on their literacy skills and prepare for life outside. 

Others borrowed on topics such as science, business, or the stock market.

Lots of inmates went through dictionaries, poetry books and graphic novels to improve their reading skills. Others looked at books on art, maths, science and law to support their studies.

One detainee was working through the science topics in the Encyclopedia Britannica, while another pored over religion books to prepare for life upon release.

ACT criminologist David Biles said while it was unlikely prisoners would ''transform into angels'' because of reading a book, novels could provide an escape.

He said library books meant inmates could learn and keep themselves occupied even if access to educational programs was restricted.

''In general, the more normal we can make things, the more we can treat them with respect as human beings, the better,'' Dr Biles said.

This year's literary preferences show tastes have changed little since 2010, when the then-new library's most borrowed book was The Damage Done, the autobiography of convicted Australian drug trafficker Warren Fellows.

The book details the harsh conditions Fellows faced during 12 years in Thai prisons for his role in a heroin distribution ring.

White Lies, the musings of Damian Marrett, a former undercover officer with Victoria Police who helped bring down members of the Griffith mafia, came in at number two, followed by John Silvester and Andrew Rule's Underbelly.