BOP Director Restricts Access to Books in Prisons


On April 17, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, Mark Inch, testified at an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee n Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.  You can watch the full hearing here. Of particular concern to us was the question and answer between Director Inch and Rep. Nadler (D-NY) about the proposed policy of banning the shipment of all reading material to FCC Coleman, a federal prison complex located in Florida.  (If you want to watch the interchange, it's around minute 35.) Those who are incarcerated there will be required to go through prison staff to order books and the order will not be placed unless the person has sufficient funds in his or her commissary account to cover the cost of the book, shipping, and an additional fee equivalent to 30 percent of the total cost. 

Rep. Nadler wanted to know the reasoning behind restricting access to books overall, given the numerous studies linking education with better reentry results, and in particular the purpose of denying reading material to those who are indigent and who will not be able to pay for books directly, not to mention the 30% surcharge. Not surprisingly, Director Inch did not have a response. He first tried to deflect by saying he would stop by Rep. Nadler's office to discuss the matter. When the congressman insisted on an answer for the record, Inch admitted he had not seen the memo, spoke about concerns about contraband, and then said all federal prisons had libraries. The contraband argument is nonsensical because families already have to send books through third party vendors and so have no chance to slip something in between the pages. Furthermore, the idea that people on the inside should be limited to whatever reading material the BOP sees fit to provide is not only heartless but falls far short of what the First Amendment demands, even in a prison setting.

There may be hope that this is a battle the BOP cannot win. New York state tried to implement a similar policy until the outrage caused the governor to intervene. In this case, one other representative raised concerns about the book policy -- Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a member of the tea party movement. Presumably not one to be soft on crime, Mr. Gohmert objected to limiting the ability of those in FCC Coleman (and elsewhere) to receive books, fearing that they would lose access to religious material. 

We're watching this situation carefully and will report when we know more.