Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Books Have the Power to Rehabilitate. But Prisons Are Blocking Access to Them. via Mother Jones

Books Have the Power to Rehabilitate. But Prisons Are Blocking Access to Them.
No Ulysses, Where’s Waldo?, or The New Jim Crow: Welcome to “the nation’s largest book ban.”
Mother Jones: Jan/ Feb 2020 by Samantha Michaels

Behind the walls of California State Prison, Sacramento, six inmates gather in the library for their weekly short-story club. The librarian introduces the day’s pick, Doris Lessing’s A Sunrise on the Veld, and the men take turns reading it aloud. Some of them lean forward in their chairs as they listen; one traces the words with his index finger. It almost feels like a classroom, except that the library’s computers don’t connect to the internet, and there’s no natural light. A back room holds metal cages where prisoners with behavioral problems can do legal research. About half the books are donated, many from a public library, and the pickings are slim: Nonfiction is kept behind the counter, and most of the fiction is locked away in a small room.

But for Michael Blanco, who is 19 years into an 87-to-life sentence, this represents a vast improvement. At his last prison, he says the librarians stocked the shelves largely with books inmates had requested from family and nonprofits. Still, California has one of the better prison library programs. The state spends $350,000 annually on recreational books for prisoners, much more than other states do.

Citing concerns about contraband, officials around the country are ratcheting up restrictions on what gets into prison libraries. They say there’s been an uptick of drug smuggling via books, whose pages can be soaked with synthetic marijuana or other potent liquids. In September 2018, Pennsylvania’s corrections department temporarily banned all book donations after dozens of prison staffers landed in the emergency room with tingling skin, headaches, and dizziness after handling inmates’ belongings. New York, Maryland, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have adopted similar policies, and Washington state banned most used books from its prisons, though all eventually backtracked because of public outrage.

Even in places without wholesale bans, corrections departments are cracking down. Florida blocks 20,000 titles and Texas blocks 10,000 titles they claim could stir up disorder. A recent report by PEN America decried similar restrictions around the country as so arbitrary and sweeping as to effectively be “the nation’s largest book ban.” Texas prisons have prohibited Where’s Waldo? and a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets with racy illustrations. Literary groups and activists banded together to protest the censorship in Florida prisons by appealing to the Supreme Court in the fall of 2018. “Access to compelling books can be a godsend,” they wrote in an amicus brief, “for both prisoners and the rest of us, who benefit when prisoners have constructive outlets and better odds of rehabilitation.”

For centuries, the printed word has been seen as a way to help incarcerated people turn their lives around. In the late 1700s, inmates received religious texts to encourage their rehabilitation. In the 1940s, California prison librarian Herman Spector pushed the theory of bibliotherapy, which held that incarcerated people could be reformed through reading. During a talk to the American Prison Association in 1940, Dr. C.V. Morrison recommended book “prescriptions” for inmates; around that time, officials at California’s San Quentin Prison took library records into account when deciding parole eligibility.

Some lockups in Brazil and Italy allow people to shave three or four days off their sentences for each book they finish. A 2014 study by psychologists in the United States found that bibliotherapy in jails and prisons helped reduce inmates’ depression and psychological distress.  READ MORE >>

West Virginia Inmates Charged for Reading ‘Free’ Books on Tablets
The Crime Report: 11.25 .2019

A new policy that charges West Virginia inmates to read books on electronic tablets is stirring outrage.

At several West Virginia prisons, the incarcerated are getting “free” electronic tablets to read books, send emails, and communicate with their families, but under a 2019 contract between the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR) and Global Tel Link (GTL), the company that is providing electronic multimedia tablets to 10 West Virginia prisons, inmates will be charged 3 cents a minute to read the books, reported Reason.

The charge happens even though the books all come from Project Gutenberg, a free online library of more than 60,000 texts in the public domain. This means reading a classic novel “will cost them far more than it would have if they’d simply gotten a mass market paperback, because the tablets charge readers by the minute,” according to Reason.

The Appalachian Book Project reported last week that “people in WV prisons will be charged 5 cents/minute to access much of the tablet’s content. For now, a promotional discount brings the cost of reading e-books down to 3 cents/minute. Either way, it’s no way to read.”

“The adoption of costly video-technology is part of a disturbing nation-wide trend: 74 percent of jails who have adopted video calls have subsequently banned in-person visitation,” tweeted Rebecca Kavanaugh, media director of The Appeal.

Kavanaugh continued, “There’s also been a troubling national trend to ban donations of used books to people who are incarcerated and to restrict book purchases to certain vendors that charge exorbitant prices and have limited censored selections.”

Over the past few years, there has been a rise in “prison profiteers who strike deals with state corrections officers to provide ‘free’ tablets to prisoners (these being the flimsiest, cheapest, least reliable hardware imaginable), and then profiting by charging exorbitant sums for prisoners to send emails” or video-conference with family, reported boingboing.  READ MORE >>

No comments: