Updated book donation policy for Pa. prisons is met with skepticism

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)

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has announced new information on its overhauled book donation program — which has been halted since a drug smuggling scare in late August.

However, at least one book donation group has said it’s not on board.

The updated donation policy would have inmates request books by genre. The department said it would work with donor groups to collect relevant books, ship them to a separate location for drug screening, and then give them to inmates.

Keir Neuringer, a volunteer with Philadelphia-based Books Through Bars, said he doesn’t think that’ll serve inmates well. Under the old system, they could send letters with descriptions of the kinds of books they wanted.

“We do our best to respond to individual requests for books,” Neuringer said. “We do not help the DOC select and choose who can read what books. That’s not part of our mission.”

Neuringer said the group is still discussing the new policy. But he doesn’t think it will participate.

The other book donation group that serves primarily Pennsylvania is the Pittsburgh-based Book ‘Em. A spokeswoman said in an email that the group is still working through the implications of the new policy.

“Although we recognize this is a step in the right direction and we appreciate the DOC’s ability to adapt their policy, we still feel we should be able to send books to inmates directly and have some concerns with how this new system will operate,” she said.

The DOC also said overdoses and drug exposure cases have gone down considerably after implementation of their controversial raft of new security measures.

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