After pushback, Pennsylvania changing approach to books in prisons

In late August following a prison lockdown, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections halted book donations from organizations as well as inmates’ families and friends Now, the DOC is letting book donation groups communicate with inmates, and family and friends can buy books directly through publishers. (StudioDin/BigStock)

In late August following a prison lockdown, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections halted book donations from organizations as well as inmates’ families and friends Now, the DOC is letting book donation groups communicate with inmates, and family and friends can buy books directly through publishers. (StudioDin/BigStock)

Since late summer, Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections has been rolling out enhanced security measures designed to stop the flow of drugs into prisons. One of those changes included restrictions on book gifts and donations.

But after pushback from several inmates’ rights groups and book donors, the department is making changes once again.

The initial book proposal would have required donation groups to use the corrections department as an intermediary in getting reading material to prisoners. Friends and family members who wanted to send books to inmates would also have had to order through the DOC.

That approach was derided by organizations that called it too confusing for inmates and said it made it more difficult to get them specific books.

Keir Neuringer, with Philly-based organization Books Through Bars, said what followed was a lot of back-and-forth.

“Through deep conversation and negotiation with the DOC, Books Through Bars and Book ‘Em [a Pittsburgh-based group] and probably some other organizations that I’m not aware of, we were able to give a lot of feedback on the policy over the last week or so,” he said.

Now, the DOC is letting book donation groups communicate with inmates, and family and friends can buy books directly through publishers.

All the donated and purchased books will be searched for drugs before being delivered to inmates.

In a press release, the DOC said it arrived at its latest policy after listening to inmates, their families and friends, and relevant groups.

Neuringer noted his group — and others — still aren’t satisfied with all the DOC’s security changes. But he said they’re “very happy to know that this particular aspect of the restrictions has been reversed.”

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