The article focuses on the functioning of prison libraries in foreign countries and the Russian Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is shown that these libraries were provided with enough books of different genres, periodicals and published their own periodicals. The penal issues included the events ofthe life of the correctional institution and did not contain the reports of various crimes (that was their difference from secular ones). The prisoners could participate in the publication of the newspapers under the guidance of a priest, a director of a prison school or a head of the penitentiary. The newspaper, on the one hand, had to promote the moral and intellectual development of the prisoners, on the other hand had to keep them informed of the events in the world. The most famous prison periodicals were «Prison Mirror», «Star of Hope», «The summary», «Our Paper», «Reformatory Outlook» and others.The prison libraries contained artistic, journalistic and popular scientific publications that were quite consistent with the level of the prisoners’ education. The director of the prison could allow a prisoner reading books that were not included in the catalog, ifa prisoner did not know thebook’s language, or if a prisoner of higher education needed specialized literature. Each prison library should have the books on health, housekeeping, food and beverage utility, the dangers of alcohol, crafts, agriculture, books in foreign languages, on history, geography, anthropology; dictionaries, descriptions of travels hadbeen recommended. It is interesting to note that some penitentiaries contained reading rooms. The problems of the functioning of prison libraries were discussed at the congressesof the prison theorists. The author believes that books and periodicals fulfilled the developmental, educational, corrective and therapeutic, recreational, adaptive functions in the rehabilitation of the prisoners. There were some difficulties in the operation of the libraries, such as a lack of system, unscientific approach to the selection of literature, uncertainty about a person who should be engaged in the selection of the books, cataloging them and so on. There were active debates among the experts about the wisdom of reading entertaining and comic books, the books containing violence, pessimistic ones. It was recommended to give preference to those ones which described the manifestation of heroism, sacrifice, love of country.