Response to PA DOC’s New Protocols

Some good news! The PA DOC announced that they will be reversing their September 5th book ban. As our friends at Amistad Law Project put it, “When we struggle, we win.” Thanks to everyone who has been a part of creating the pressure that has led to this reversal!

We are excited to resume sending books to people incarcerated in PA state prisons, but the work around these issues is far from over. We need to keep up the pressure to make sure not only that the new book policies are implemented in thoughtful ways, but also that the rest of the draconian mail and visitation policies are reversed entirely.

Join us by taking the following actions:

  • Saturday 12/15 1-4PM @ William Way LGBTQ Community Center (1315 Spruce St.)  Decarcerate PA’s December Letter Writing & Holiday Card Making This holiday season, the harmful DOC mail policies mean that we can’t send cards directly to our loved ones on the inside. So we’re sending them to Governor Wolf instead! Join us for our regular letter writing event and make a card for Governor Wolf to let him know why these policies should be immediately canceled!
  • Tuesday 12/18 12-1PM @ 110 N 8th Street – Action at Governor Wolf’s Philadelphia Office Governor Wolf Won’t let us send holiday cards to our loved ones. So we are delivering them to him instead! Join us at his Philadelphia office to help us deliver hundreds of cards demanding an end to the terrible new Department of Corrections policies that prevent our loved ones from receiving original copies of mail, cards, or photos.
  • Help us flood the governor’s office with mail from incarcerated people and their allies. Those on the inside can send their grievances about the restrictions along with any photocopied mail they’ve received from Florida that’s distorted or illegible. Those on the outside can send items they can’t send to their friends and loved ones: greeting cards, photographs, drawings, etc. Let your incarcerated friends, family, and contacts know what we’re doing and share the governor’s address:

    Governor Tom Wolf, Office of the Governor
    508 Main Capitol Building
    Harrisburg PA 17120

  • No matter where you live, call Governor Wolf’s office (717-787-2500) and Corrections Secretary Wetzel’s office (717- 728-2573) to let them know your concerns about these new policies. If you live in PA, call  your state senator  and your state representative as well – you can find contact info for your state reps here.
  • Stay tuned for more calls to action in the coming days and weeks! Follow Books Through Bars on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Details of the new policies:

  • People in prisons cannot receive physical mail. Mail from family and friends will be sent to a private company, Florida, where it will be opened, scanned, and emailed to the prison. Addressees will only receive printouts of the digital copy. Physical mail, including photos, greeting cards, and children’s artwork, will be destroyed. All mail scans will be stored in a permanent, searchable database.
  • Friends, family members, and advocates of people in prison have grave concerns about the new mail procedures. Mail may be lost or scanned improperly, and all of these written communications can be surveilled. Some are hesitant send mail at all, which cuts off a vital line of connection between people inside and outside of prison.
  • Legal mail will be opened and copied by prison staff, raising serious concerns about violation of attorney client privilege.
  • The stated purpose of these policies is to prevent dangerous drugs from entering prisons via the mail. Books Through Bars rejects the idea that these restrictions will make prison staff or incarcerated people safer. Effective, evidence-based treatment – not surveillance and censorship – will help reduce the drug problem in PA’s prisons.

Articles about new protocols and their effects:

‘It’s just cruel’: Families of inmates protest Gov. Tom Wolf at Christmas ceremony from Harrisburg Patriot News (12/6/18)

Ho, ho, ho! Protesters briefly disrupt Pennsylvania Capitol Christmas tree lighting from the Morning Call (12/6/18)

Is this what prison mail looks like now? from Slate (12/5/18)

Under pressure, PA prisons repeal restrictive book policy from Philly Inquirer (11/2/18)

Free dictionaries for all, and other efforts to appease critics of PA prison crackdown from Philly Inquirer (10/19/18)

PA prisons unprecedented security crackdown: 5 things you need to know from Philly Inquirer (10/16/18)

‘I feel hopeless’: Families call new PA prison mail policy devastating from Philly Inquirer (10/15/18)

Incarcerated Pennsylvanians now have to pay $150 to read. We should all be outraged from Washington Post (10/11/18)

ACLU prepares to sue PA prisons over new mail policy from the Philly Inquirer (10/2/18)

One review of PA prisons’ pricey ebooks: ‘Books that are available for free, that nobody wants anyway’ from from Philly Inquirer (9/21/18)

Current PA inmate: Punitive policy changes make it clear that staff lives are more important than ours from from Philly Inquirer (9/21/18)

What exactly do we want from prisons? from the Inquirer Editorial Board (9/21/18)

Return to sender: no more mailing books to inmates in Pennsylvania from Slate (9/19/18)

After PA prisons crack down on books to stop drug smuggling, Twitter calls BS from Philly Inquirer (9/18/18)

An incarcerated writer speaks out on Pennsylvania’s extreme new prison rules from the Philadelphia Partisan (9/14/18)

As PA overhauls prison book policies, inmates’ rights groups cry foul from WHYY (9/14/18)

Banning the book: Pennsylvania DOC faces backlash over recent policy change from KYW News Radio 1060 (9/14/18)

PA limits inmate books among ‘growing drug crisis’ from the Crime Report (9/13/18)

PA prison books and mail policies draw protest, petitions, and possible legal challenges from Philly Inquirer (9/13/18)

‘Paper soaked in loved ones’ tears’: How mail helps PA prisoners stay grounded from Philly Inquirer (9/13/18)

Pennsylvania prisons terminating book donations after ‘drug crisis’ from BillyPenn (9/12/18)

Critics say new prison rules to curb drug smuggling are too harsh, but DOC claims they’re necessary from Metro (9/12/18)

PA prisons spend $15M after guards were sickened by K2. But what if it was just in their heads? from Philly Inquirer (9/7/18)

Changes at Pennsylvania prisons could effectively end book donation programs from The Incline (9/6/18)