A December directive from the New York State Department of Correctional and Community Services severely restricts prisoner access to books and other materials. The directive, set to be “piloted” in three specific facilities before taking full effect throughout the state in September, specifies that all items sent to prisoners must come from a list of approved vendors. Exceptions are “wedding ring, release clothing, and non-electric musical instruments which must be sent into the facility by the inmate’s family.”
Kersplebdeb, an activist publisher with a strong focus on prisoner rights issues, points out that with the new policy, prisoners “can no longer receive fresh veggies or canned fruits,” and that “warm clothing such as hoodies and scarves are prohibited.” Artist and writer Molly Crabapple writes, via Twitter, that, “Under new rules, people in NY prisons can only receive books from 5 certified vendors. They offer 5 junk sex novels, 14 bibles & religious books, 24 drawing/coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 guitar/chess/how-to books, 1 dictionary, 1 thesaurus. No other books can be sent in.” Additionally, tweets Crabapple, “The purpose of these new rules is to force families of prisoners to buy overpriced, shoddy crap from a few politically connected vendors.”
While there have been some small hopeful signs for prison reform in New York state, like the announcement that Rikers Island is slated to close, these new rules hardly seem to bode well for New York’s prison population. Some New Jersey prisons banned The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s bestselling study of the interrelation between racial discrimination and mass incarceration; the ACLU sent a letter to the Department of Corrections Commissioner claiming the ban was unconstitutional, and it was lifted today. With this much more sweeping ban in New York, The New Jim Crow, along with books on law and prison reform, will be off limits to prisoners; it’s an ominous sign of what’s to come for their welfare and rights.