[Pnews] What Can’t You Send to an Inmate in New York? Apples, Used Books and More

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 11 15:44:12 EST 2018


  What Can’t You Send to an Inmate in New York? Apples, Used Books and More

By VIVIAN WANG <https://www.nytimes.com/by/vivian-wang>JAN. 11, 2018
*Sign a petition opposing these proposed package restrictions* *here! 


ALBANY — Until very recently, care packages for inmates in New York 
State prisons could contain a hodgepodge of items to let them know 
someone on the outside was thinking of them: a fresh apple, a hoodie, a 
dog-eared paperback.

As of this month, all those things are no longer allowed.

New York’s prison system is testing a policy 
<http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Directives/4911A.pdf> that would bar family 
members and friends from mailing their incarcerated loved ones a used 
book, or bringing fresh fruit and vegetables on a visit. They would 
instead be limited to the catalogs of a handful of state-approved 
vendors, through whom all packages for inmates would need to be ordered.

The state corrections department, which introduced the policy as a pilot 
program in three prisons on Jan. 2, says it will help officers crack 
down on recent increases in package-room contraband. It plans to 
implement the policy statewide by the fall.

But critics say the move would enrich a few private companies, and would 
limit prisoners to the catalogs’ paltry, price-inflated roster of TV 
dinners, potato chips and Scrabble dictionaries. A coalition of 
opponents, from the Legal Aid Society 
<https://twitter.com/LegalAidNYC/status/950833854616686593> to PEN 
to the New York-based National Supermarket Association, has rallied to 
denounce the policy and petition officials to reconsider. And 
Representative Joseph Crowley, the House Democratic caucus chairman from 
New York, urged that the restriction 
on books be reconsidered, citing their importance to inmates’ successful 
re-entry into society.

“The department’s response has been in every way to use security as a 
tool — and I see it as a weapon — to retaliate against the population” 
of inmates and their families, said Jack Beck, director of the Prison 
Visiting Project at the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York 

The amount of contraband recovered in prisons increased 74 percent from 
2013 to 2017, with the amount that entered through the package room 
increasing 64 percent, according to Anthony J. Annucci, the corrections 
department’s acting commissioner.

Mr. Annucci said the department’s priority is inmate safety: As people 
have found more creative ways to circumvent traditional screening 
techniques, inmates’ fatal overdoses have spiked, he said, adding that 
27 other states use so-called “secure vendors.”

Mr. Annucci said prices for products would be kept down by competition 
among vendors, six of whom have been announced so far, with at least two 
more to come. The department has no financial arrangement with the 
vendors, and would not take a share of their profits, Mr. Annucci said.

But a look at the catalogs published online showed inflated prices on 
popular items. One vendor was selling a package of Oreo cookies for more 
than $5, compared to around $3 at a local discount store or mass 
retailer. Another vendor was selling a single plain T-shirt for $10, 
even though many stores sell entire bulk packages for less, said 
Caroline Hsu, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society. Vendors may 
also charge shipping and handling fees.

Mr. Beck said the marked-up prices could force financially strained 
families to make difficult choices.

“People are going to have to decide, do I go on a visit, or do I buy 
this more expensive stuff? They might be giving up one or the other 
because of the cost of this,” he said.

The department has been considering a secure vendor program for years 
and announced its plans for the pilot program at Greene, Green Haven and 
Taconic Correctional Facilities in early December. But the policy 
attracted significant backlash this week after several advocacy groups, 
including NYC Books Through Bars, which donates books to incarcerated 
people, said the policy would severely limit inmates’ access to reading 

In a Jan. 3 letter 
to Mr. Annucci and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, NYC Books Through Bars said the 
vendors’ online catalogs indicated that inmates would have access to 
only romance novels, religious texts, drawing or coloring books, 
instruction manuals, one dictionary and one thesaurus.

“No books that help people learn to overcome addictions or learn how to 
improve as parents,” the letter said. “No Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, 
Maya Angelou or other literature that helps people connect with what it 
means to be human.”

After the letter was sent, the department posted the sixth vendor’s 
catalog, which included an expanded book list.

Also on Jan. 3, Mr. Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State 
address, which included proposed reforms to New York’s criminal justice 
Officials said Mr. Cuomo was not involved in developing the corrections 
department’s policy and would evaluate the results of the pilot program.

Mr. Annucci strenuously denied that inmates’ reading options would be 
curtailed. Groups like NYC Books Through Bars could still donate books 
to prisons’ general libraries, he said. Prisoners also have access to 
public libraries. And if an inmate wanted to buy a book that was not 
listed on a vendor’s catalog, he or she could still order it.

“Nothing changes,” Mr. Annucci said. “An inmate can get any book.”

Still, Melissa Marturano, a NYC Books Through Bars volunteer, said 
donations to general libraries would not allow the organization to 
fulfill specific requests from specific inmates. And prison libraries 
are understaffed and poorly maintained, she said.

Even though other states have secure vendor programs, those programs do 
not typically apply to books or magazines, said Paul Wright, director of 
the advocacy group Human Rights Defense Center 

Other advocates said their larger concern was with not the details of 
the policy but its spirit.

New York has long had one of the most liberal policies in the country 
regarding prison packages and visits, said Elizabeth Gaynes, president 
of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that provides services to 
incarcerated people and their families.

But while other states might have more restrictive policies, that 
precedent should not influence decision-making in New York, Ms. Gaynes said.

“It’s not that it puts New York at the back of the line,” she said. 
“It’s like, why would we want to be?”

*Sign a petition opposing these proposed package restrictions* *here! 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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