Protesters plan to confront Wolf over new Pa. prison policies

Book donation programs were curtailed in late August when a rash of illnesses among prison staff — thought to be related to synthetic drug exposure--prompted DOC officials to lock down the entire prison system. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Book donation programs were curtailed in late August when a rash of illnesses among prison staff — thought to be related to synthetic drug exposure--prompted DOC officials to lock down the entire prison system. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Inmates’ rights groups are trying to turn their opposition to recent state prison policies into a campaign issue for Governor Tom Wolf.

The new rules were handed down last month on the heels of a statewide prison lockdown, over concerns drugs were making their way inside state-run facilities.

Books must now be purchased though the Department of Corrections, and gifts and donations of books have been temporarily halted.

The department has argued the changes won’t infringe on inmates’ rights — and say stopping access to free books for two or three months is necessary to stop drug smuggling.

Keir Neuringer is a volunteer with the group Books Through Bars, which gave Pa. inmates free books before the lockdown. He said he doesn’t think any halt is acceptable.

“Not every person in prison has a support network on the outside,” he said. “It’s not merely about the books  — the books are a tool for access to education.”

The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration plans to rally outside a campaign fundraiser Wolf is holding in Philadelphia Wednesday. And Thursday, the state’s Legislative Black Caucus is holding a town hall on the new policies with Corrections Secretary John Wetzel — also in Philly.

Books Through Bars and other groups are expected to be in attendance.

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