Inmates Can't Receive Donated Books Anymore, They Have to Buy Them

Instead of inmates being able to receive donated books in the mail from family members and community groups, inmates at three New York prisons now have to purchase books selected by six, state-approved vendors. And the selection is limited. And expensive, activists say.
Novels cost $11.25 from one vendor.
A book about chess costs $29.95 from another.
When there were five vendors, 77 books were available for purchase and 24 of the titles were coloring books.
According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the directive is in an effort to restrict contraband from entering the prison "through a more controlled inmate package program.”
“It is possible that with feedback from incarcerated individuals and their families some adjustment in prices may occur,” a spokesman for the Department said.
The directive restricts almost all packages from entering the prisons. Family members can no longer send food to inmates, either. Food also has to be purchased through the vendors. 
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has made the point that inmates still have access to prison libraries, but some say it’s not enough.
“The problem with prison libraries is that [the prisons] control who has access to them,” said Amy Peterson with NYC Books Through Bars. “So people who are in solitary confinement don’t have access to prison libraries.”
Peterson’s group has been mailing books to prisoners all over the country for nearly two decades, with a focus on New York.
“We get letters from people saying they had to borrow a stamp in order to write to us. So if these people can’t even afford postage, we don’t know how they’re going to be able to afford buying books from a vendor,” she said.
Book access has been restricted in three prisons as part of a pilot program.
“Informed by the results of the pilot program, DOCCS intends to fully implement the Secure Vendor Program at other correctional facilities by Fall 2018," the spokesperson said.
And James Tager with the literary and human-rights organization Pen America said he's trying to prevent that from happening.
“We are trying to sound the alarm now, because even now as a pilot program affecting only 3 institutions, this is a dramatically over-broad restriction on the right to read,” Tager said.
He said he understand the state's responsibility to keep prisons safe from contraband. “However this goes so beyond anything approaching a reasonable,” he said.

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