Originally Published March 3, 2020
Aside from the support from friends and family, reading books is also one way for inmates to keep their sanity. For years, people are donating their books in prison. For them, books can help inmates during their stay inside the prison walls. It did, to be honest.
However, families and friends of inmates are no longer allowed to send donated books to prison. Most states in the US are now banning inmates from receiving donated books. Prisoners now have to buy every book that they are interested in. Here’s why.
BANNING DONATED BOOKS RESTRICT CONTRABAND FROM ENTERING THE PRISON
According to the policy’s memo, the purpose of banning almost all packages entering the prison is to restrict contraband.
The mailroom is usually understaffed, and they have little time to inspect all the books and other packages properly. If the inmates want to have something to read, then they must purchase from the state-approved vendors.
Even sending food is also not allowed anymore. Inmates will have to buy food from approved-vendors as well.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN INMATES CAN’T RECEIVE DONATED BOOKS?
Because of this directive, the other option for inmates to have books inside the jail is to purchase them. However, not all prisoners can afford to buy one. So what will happen to them?
Most inmates who have access to books have lower violent tendencies. They tend to be less aggressive because they spend more time reading books. Instead of picking fights with their fellow inmates, they invest more in gaining knowledge. (Related: High Cost of Prison Calls May Worsen Mental Health of American Inmates)
Moreover, reading is one of the crucial steps forward to reducing recidivism. An English professor at the University of Massachusetts, Bob Waxler, claims that inmates who read are less likely to re-offend. And that reading can transform the lives of convicts the same way that it changed his college students. (Related: What Happens After One’s Release From Prison)
So, when you take away their opportunity to read, you are also taking away their chance of improving themselves to become a better person.
WHAT ABOUT PRISON LIBRARIES?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that even though donated books are not allowed in prison anymore, inmates can still access prison libraries. Yes, most prisons have libraries. But how about those who are in solitary confinement?
If prisoners have their own books that they can keep to themselves, they can read them anytime and anywhere.
Eliminating contraband in prison is for the greater good. However, the government is not giving the public any proof that people are really slipping drugs between the pages of the donated books.
Matt Peters, a member of an organization called Red Between the Bars, says, “Prisoners are humans. Their humanity is key to it as well.”
He also added, “if it is [reading] to help them pass the time, I think that’s a legitimate reason. What we consider entertainment has cognitive value. There are benefits down the road when rejoining society.”
The intention of the government is for the betterment of prisons. However, we can’t deny the fact that reading is useful and will teach inmates empathy, complexity, and how to build their personal dignity.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Franchette Agatha Jardin believes that everyone has the capacity to help those who are in need. She writes blogs about issues and news surrounding those in prison in the hopes of restoring a little extra faith in humanity.