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Advocates Say Prisons Should Encourage Books, Not Ban Them

Maryland Department of Corrections officials plan to step up screening of books coming into the system. (Pixabay)
Maryland Department of Corrections officials plan to step up screening of books coming into the system. (Pixabay)
June 18, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – After inmate advocates objected to new restrictions, Maryland prison officials are allowing inmates to continue receiving book shipments from online retailers and directly from relatives.

Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen T. Moyer recently reversed the statewide policy restricting books to thousands of inmates due to safety concerns.

In a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, Moyer said the department could prioritize safety while fostering the rehabilitative nature of corrections through literature.

Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, says the civil rights organization challenged the policy because it felt the policy was unconstitutional.

Kumar says she hopes other corrections departments across the country will take note of Maryland's policy reversal.

"Prison systems attempting to restrict access to books is an outlier and hopefully will remain that way,” she states. “It takes real sort of vigilance in making sure that folks inside are aware of their rights and as are their families. "

Criticism of the policy by Maryland inmates and their families comes after federal prison officials abruptly pulled a similar policy in place at three facilities that limited book purchases to a prison-approved vendor and imposed a 30 percent markup.

The policy, which had started in April, blocked inmates from receiving books from online retailers and relatives, forcing inmates to only purchase reading material from two prison-approved vendors that were found to be at a higher cost and omitted offerings from Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes or American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Kumar says when corrections officials cited safety concerns over contraband entering the system, she says they also demonstrated that their detection methods were working.

"These prisons have complete and total control over the people in their custody, and I think it is fair to say that none of us think we're better off if prisons are keeping people from reading instead of encouraging it," she states.

According to the Maryland Department of Corrections, since 2015, investigators have uncovered 660 strips of Suboxone in books in 44 individual cases. The FDA-approved medication helps opiate addicts manage withdrawal symptoms.

Officials also discovered book vendors working with inmates to smuggle drugs.

The scrapped federal book restrictions were in place in Virginia and California and were set to start in Florida.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD