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Prisons are engaging a war on books, and inmates are paying the price

By turning to e-readers, prisons restrict information to only the inmates that can afford it.

Thousands of free books enter the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) every year to the waiting hands of inmates who are serving their time. The program gives books a new life, and provides valuable reading material to those who are looking to stay connected to the world outside.

These programs are now at risk, thanks to new policies put on paper products by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe.

After an outbreak of synthetic drugs caused a shutdown of all Pennsylvania prisons at the end of August, Wolfe and the DOC sought to find a way to manage potential access points into state prisons. Governor Wolfe saw a key vulnerability in the way that the prisons handle paper products, such as mail and donated books.

The new policies have seen mail rerouted into a central processing location where it can be scanned for artificial narcotics. Additionally, a moratorium has been placed on all book donations indefinitely.

The DOC is now looking to e-readers to solve their paper problem. The prison communications giant, GTL has worked with other prisons to provide an e-reader solution for inmates who are looking to spend their time in prison reading.

[bctt tweet=”The e-readers are not without cost. Inmates are expected to pay $149 for the tablets, despite the fact that they only make between 19 and 51 cents per hour.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The e-readers are not without cost. Inmates are expected to pay $149 for the tablets, despite the fact that they only make between 19 and 51 cents/hr.

Prisoners with the highest earning jobs would need to work over seven weeks for the privilege to have access to GTL’s library of books. Books range from $2.99 to $24.99 in cost, despite the fact that many of the books listed are available for free through the public domain.

If the inmates themselves do not have the ability to buy the tablets or books themselves, they can be purchased by family members through the prison commissary. However, many people in these institutions have poor families, who might not be able to afford the cost of the e-readers or the books themselves.

These changes can cause a deeper divide in the treatment of people who are jailed for white collar crime as opposed to the general population. People who are serving time that can still keep powerful connections outside of the prison will be able to still benefit from these policies. However, the staggering amount of impoverished people of color who flood prisons will be taken advantage of.

[bctt tweet=”While the governor says that this is for the safety of prison staff, it is a blatant effort to monetize the inmates in Pennsylvania prisons. The cost of e-readers can totally disqualify inmates from having access to reading materials.” username=”wearethetempest”]

While the governor says that this is for the safety of prison staff, it is a blatant effort to monetize the inmates in Pennsylvania prisons. The cost of e-readers can totally disqualify inmates from having access to reading materials.

More importantly, the cost of these books can make information inaccessible for the people in Pennsylvania prisons. Books like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are offered at $2.99, while the Federalist Papers are $11.99.

[bctt tweet=”The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which tells how mass incarceration has taken the place of segregation-era legislation to promote racist policies is left out of GTL’s library of offerings entirely.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which tells how mass incarceration has taken the place of segregation-era legislation to promote racist policies is left out of GTL’s library of offerings entirely.

These policies also fly in the face of research that shows that readership among prisoners significantly lowers recidivism. In some studies, the rates of prison return were halved for populations that participated in reading programs while incarcerated.

By disallowing book donations to continue, inmates will have no ability to educate themselves while incarcerated. There will be no ability for rehabilitation while in prison. Instead, prisons will become simply a means to isolate the most vulnerable populations among us.