An exciting new pilot program in New York’s state prison system is aimed at cutting down on contraband getting to prisoners by limiting package deliveries to prisoners to items purchased and shipped from a limited number of authorized vendors, which will be the only source of outside packages allowed. If the pilot program’s deemed a success, the restrictions will expand to all the state’s prisons. No more cell phones hidden inside Bibles from home, no more Oxycontin tablets sewn into shirt hems, and of course, no more perfectly innocent shipment of homemade cookies, either, because prison is meant to be hard. Also, uh-oh, unless the approved vendors expand their offerings of books, ThinkProgress reports,only 77 titles can be shipped to prisoners.
The new rule, with the catchy name “Directive 4911A,” was issued last month and will first apply to three prisons before possible expansion. The policy, says the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), is designed to “enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities through a more controlled inmate package program.” And if it limits the reading options of prisoners, who cares? It’s not like they’re people. ThinkProgress looked at the extremely limited range of reading available from the first five vendors approved for the program. Combined, they offer
just five romance novels, 14 religious texts, 24 drawing or coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 how-to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus.
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One nonprofit group of liberal literary do-gooder hippie troublemakers, the Books Through Bars Collective, has been making a fuss about the new policy, claiming that it would limit access to educational and just plain monotony-relieving reading for inmates, as if they deserved anything but all punishment all the time. Books Through Bars sends books to prisoners in 40 states, at no cost, at the request of prison inmates or their families. The volunteer program delivers about 600 book packages a month. Even books with no Jesus or pictures at all!
Books Through Bars protested — like a bunch of knee-jerk eggheads — that the new policy would mean imprisoned people in New York might have no access to
Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human. No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. This draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people.
A spokesperson for Books Through Bars, Amy Peterson, told ThinkProgress that the program has helped people obtain skills and education that helped them prepare for life after prison, like one man who learned English from books sent to him, or others who learned how to start businesses. We bet some may have even read for — gasp! — entertainment. She added that in the two decades the program has been running, no contraband has ever been found in one of their packages. But how can she be sure? Some people may have read books that exposed them to dangerous ideas about rights, justice, and possibly even the nutty concept that America isn’t entirely fair.
Even if prisoners might want those five romance novels and 11 how-to books, their families will have to buy them at whatever price the vendors charge, which, if the package system works anything like prison phone calls, will be far more expensive than a conventional bookstore, to say nothing of the fact that Books Behind Bars sends books for free. And of course, the program will prohibit any packages brought from home. Whatever happened to just searching the damn things? Heavens, it’s not like education reduces recidivism, except for the evidence showing education reduces recidivism.
But don’t worry! New York’s DOCCS told ThinkProgress in a statement Monday that the new program will work out just fine:
Over the last two years, the Department worked to develop a secure vendor package program to increase facility safety by reducing the introduction of contraband. Secure vendor programs are used by nearly 30 jurisdictions in the country and are cited as a national best practice. Furthermore, it is patently false to suggest that individuals in DOCCS custody will not have access to books, magazines, or other literature.
If they went into any further detail on that, ThinkProgress didn’t say; presumably the statement was referring to prison libraries, which as far as we can tell have not yet been eliminated, so everything is all good, as long as inmates don’t want to actually have any books of their own beyond the 77 available titles. In any case, they’re only prisoners, and only an idiot liberal would care about lawbreakers’ access to books, anyway. Don’t do the crime if you can’t color in the lines.