[Pnews] New York Has Now Privatized Care Packages for Prisoners
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 8 10:26:39 EST 2018
New York Has Now Privatized Care Packages for Prisoners
By Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge
<https://www.themarshallproject.org/staff/taylor-eldridge> - January 4, 2018
Opening StatementThe best criminal justice news from around the web,
New York’s prison system just banned something unusual from the outside:
fresh fruits and veggies. As of this month, care packages sent to some
inmates must come through private companies — no more parcels with food
and goodies sent from home.
The state has entered the big business of prisoner care packages
joining the ranks of the hundreds of other local and state corrections
agencies using private companies for the service. Instead of heading to
a local convenience or grocery store to find gifts, loved ones have to
choose from a selection of pre-approved items in the companies’ catalogs.
The change went into effect this month at three facilities in a pilot
program, Greene, Taconic and Green Haven Correctional Facilities. But
the state plans to expand to the whole system — the fourth largest in
the nation — by the fall.
The prison system says the switch will significantly reduce contraband,
such as drugs or weapons, from getting into facilities, making them
safer for inmates and staff. The state Department of Corrections and
Community Supervision would not say if there have been particular
incidents that provoked the change. Although many corrections
departments take a cut of the profits in these deals, New York is not
receiving a commission from the companies.
There are three exceptions to the new rule: wedding rings worth less
than $150; clothes for a prisoner to wear when he or she is released;
and non-electrical instruments can all be sent straight from home. Any
other items not sent through the approved companies will be considered
contraband and returned to the sender or discarded, including books.
The approved vendors are well-established in the corrections industry:
Access Securepak, E-Ford Commissary, Union Supply Group, Jack L. Marcus
Company and Walkenhorst. Each company says it makes sending care
packages simpler and less stressful since all offered items have been
But advocates say private package companies make the process
unnecessarily difficult and expensive. Caroline Hsu, a staff attorney
with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, says the
companies’ prices for simple things such as rice or Oreos can be much
higher than those at local stores. For those with no credit card or
internet at home, using the online catalogs can be near-impossible.
Under the new rule, an inmate can receive at most six packages a month —
three ordered by loved ones, and three ordered directly by the inmate.
Each package can’t weigh more than 30 pounds, and the total weight of
food within the package has to be less than 8 pounds. That’s a maximum
of 16 pounds of food a month — less than half of what was allowed under
the old rules. Loved ones were also able to bring food with them during
a visit, to supplement prison meals.
Packages are critical, especially for those who don’t eat the prison
food, says Jack Beck, director of the Prison Visiting Project run by the
Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit with authority to
inspect state prisons. “Some people prepare all their food based on the
contents of packages they receive,” he said.
Most contraband can be prevented if correctional officers do an adequate
job of inspecting packages, Beck says. “It’s not an insurmountable
issue,” he said.
Even with the more restricted rule, staffers have to take an additional
step: a package must be inspected in front of the inmate. If anything
raises a red flag, officers can open an item and take a closer look. If
an item does not pass inspection, the inmate has to sign a special form,
identifying the item and how he or she wants it to be disposed of.
For many advocates, the outcry against the program is about more than
just catalog options and prices. “Packages and food are ways that people
can find comfort to remind themselves that they’re human,” Hsu said.
“Taking those away tells people they’re not worth anything.”
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