PA Limits Inmate Books Amid ‘Growing Drug Crisis’

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The lockdown at Pennsylvania’s state prisons is over, but a number of sweeping policy changes remain, reports The state corrections department instituted new book, mail, and visitation policies to combat a “growing drug crisis” and protect employees — as well as incarcerated persons — from synthetic substances that are entering prisons via “paper products.” The fallout for inmates is far-reaching, advocates say, from possible privacy issues to alienation from their legal representatives. People in these prisons have also lost access to something much more basic: donated literature.

Each year, Philadelphia-based Books Through Bars receives thousands of letters and sends about 7,000 packages containing one to five books each, member Keir Neuringer said. Book ‘Em, run by the Big Idea Bookstore and Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, sends more than 2,000 packages a year. Neuringer called the new policy “wrongheaded,” “regressive,” and “cruel.” In the past, incarcerated persons could individually request free books through Books Through Bars or similar DOC-approved programs. Going forward, it’s “unlikely [these programs] will be donating to individual inmates,” said the corrections agency’s Diana Woodside. Under the new policy, incarcerated persons can purchase physical books through the corrections department or e-books through approved tablets that cost $147 plus tax. (Most people confined to Pennsylvania’s state prisons make between 19 and 42 cents an hour.) There are libraries at each state prison, Woodside noted, and the state plans to expand the selections based on incarcerated people’s requests. The number of periodicals and magazines will also be increased.

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