Pennsylvania to End Prison Book Donations, Forcing Inmates Onto Pricey eBook Platform

Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections is planning to ban free book donations to inmates by mail, claiming that this is a “primary avenue for drugs” to enter prisons. But the move coincides with a renewed push to get prisoners buying into a pricey prison eBook system that offers low-end tablets for $150 and eBooks no cheaper than $3 a read.

“Effective immediately, the DOC will begin to transition to ebooks coupled with bolstered DOC library system featuring centralized purchasing and ordering process,” the DOC announced at its website. “No books or publications will be shipped directly to an inmate. … [we] will no longer accept books donated directly to individual inmates.”

Presented as evidence by the DOC was a letter from a prisoner it said “describes how to smuggle drugs through a popular book donation program.” As the Prisoners Lit Project and others pointed out, though, the letter didn’t say anything at all about drugs: “the poor guy just wanted a dictionary!”

The project describes itself as an all-volunteer grassroots group that sends free books to prisoners in the United States. It sends 30-40 packages a week to prisoners—no drugs included—and plans to fight what it sees as an “unfair and shortsighted change” that will effectively end the program.

“Banning books from ‘books to prisoners’ organizations is inhumane,” it wrote.

Another similar organization, Book’ Em, said it mails hundreds of book packages to prisoners and would push back against the policy.

A third, Books to Prisoners, said that Pennsylvania prisons’ libraries are underfunded and often inaccessible and challenged the DOC’s claims otherwise. The Amistad Law Project described the new policy as “horrible” and “dehumanizing.”

Read the entire story featuring grantee The Amistad Law Project.

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