Advocates fight to rescind “book ban”

Maryland

A new “book ban” in Maryland state prisons is stirring up quite the controversy.

While some believe books from Amazon are partly to blame for the increase in drugs, advocates are having a hard time believing that. 

“They’re already restricted in health, in exercise, in connection to their loved ones and now they’re limited in the ability to read?” President & CEO of Justice and Recovery Advocates, Jule Magers questioned.

In April, a statewide policy was announced that limited books sales to two vendors — Books N Things and Edward Hamilton.

“It’s just another form of them taking your power away,” formerly incarcerated, Branden McCallister said.

While many feel it’s a violation of the First Amendment, prison officials said it’s a way to keep drugs, specifically Suboxone, out of the facilities.

“I really don’t believe amazon is lacing their books with Suboxone,” advocate, Natalie melendez Abbas said.

In a statement to WDVM, correctional services staff said, “At this time, there is no intent to change the department’s decision, which ensures inmates have access to books in a safe manner. Drugs smuggled into our institutions fuel prison violence, and the safety of our officers, staff and those in our custody remains paramount.

“We have 129,000 books in our library collection that are available to inmates for free, and the state spends about $16,000 each year for new books. We also receive 10,000 books a year through donations from generous Maryland citizens.”

After some kickback, state officials said they are considering expanding vendors.

For an inside perspective on the matter WDVM spoke with Marcus Lilly, a Baltimore resident, recently released from prison in December. “If we don’t do anything to help educate them or we keep restricting their means of education then are we partly responsible for the further crimes they commit when they go into society.”

Gerry Shields, with the Department of Safety and Correctional Services said, the two vendors provide over 15,000 titles that are available to the general public.

“The Maryland Prisoners Rights Coalition has a strong stance that they want the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in the state of Maryland to rescind the book policy,” Magers said.

Magers said, with the new policy, inmates will only be able to keep ten books in their possession, another example of how she said their rights will be violated.

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