There is no doubt that reading is one of the most constructive activities that prison inmates can undertake. According to a 2016 report from Quartz, research shows that reading provides prisoners with emotional and mental relief, and also helps reduce negative thinking that can lead to recidivism. To this end, correctional facilities allow non-profit organizations and family members to send books and other reading materials directly to inmates because reading is very important for their rehabilitation.
In Pennsylvania, however, it seems like incarcerated persons will have a tougher time rehabilitating because of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC)’s recent decision to replace hard copies of books and other reading materials with e-books.
According to the new decision, “books and publications, including legal primers and prison newsletters, cannot be sent directly to incarcerated Pennsylvanians,” per an article by the Washington Post.
Although the introduction of e-books sounds like a great idea as it would ideally allow prisoners to access thousands of books on a small, sophisticated device and they wouldn’t have to wait for their favorite books to arrive, the situation is not all roses.
If prison inmates wish to have access to a book, they are now required to purchase a tablet worth $147 plus tax, and also pay a private firm to get the electronic versions of the books that they want to read.
In a recent report, Quartz wrote that the e-books will cost “anywhere from $3 to $25 per download,” and many of the books available through the propriety system are much more expensive than their normal market prices.
And that’s not all. Even after paying this hefty sum of money, prisoners will only be able to choose from the available 8,500 titles that the new e-book system offers.
The recent ban on books was part of security measures that aim to limit the flow of contraband drugs into Pennsylvania’s prisons. The measure was taken following a series of incidents in August where prison staffers reportedly fell sick because of exposure to synthetic cannabinoids such as K2, per Quartz.
A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, however, indicated that the incidents may have been overblown, and quoted experts from the American College of Medical Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology who said that “the risk from incidental contact to the drug [is] extremely low.”
Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that is making it harder for inmates to get books. In January this year, correctional institutions in New York also planned to ban reading materials from reaching prison inmates, per the New Yorker.
Following the move, however, critics accused the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision of censorship, and in February, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Twitter that he is revoking the decision.
I am directing the Dept. of Corrections to rescind its flawed pilot program that restricted shipment of books & care packages to inmates.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 12, 2018
Concerns from families need to be addressed, while we redouble efforts to fight prison contraband.