New Program Would Restrict New York Prisoners' Access to All But the Dumbest Books


New York State has launched a new “program” that would severely limit one of the few earthly pleasures permitted to prisoners during their time behind bars: Books.

Directive 4911A, which is being piloted at three prisons around the state, limits the items available to inmates to just six vendors, ostensibly to “enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities through a more controlled inmate package program,” the Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions claims.

But the reality of the program is entirely different, curtailing prisoners’ reading options to a small field of mostly garbage. According to ThinkProgress:

The first five vendors combined offered just five romance novels, 14 religious texts, 24 drawing or coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 how-to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus. Last week, the state appeared to add a sixth vendor, but the full catalog doesn’t appear to be available to people in prison in the state, and the governor’s office did not respond to questions about the addition.

The move immediately raised the hackles of advocacy groups, who are appalled by the suggestion that limiting prisoners’ access to both the educational benefits and nominal freedom that books provide could be construed as a good thing. NYC Books Through bars, a collective that sends books to prisons in 40 states, expressed its disgust in a statement to Buzzfeed:

“No books that help people learn to overcome addictions or learn how to improve as parents. No Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human,” the statement said. “No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. This draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people.”

In addition to books, the directive would also place limits on just about any type of package inmates are able to receive, including fresh produce and gifts from visitors. The Department of Corrections did not respond to either ThinkProgress nor Buzzfeed’s requests for comment.

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