The Washington State Department of Corrections said Wednesday it will once again accept used book donations sent to prisoners from approved nonprofit vendors and organizations.
The decision comes after DOC officials said in March they wanted to reduce the amount of contraband coming into prisons.
Rob Herzog, assistant secretary of the DOC, sent out a memo to employees on Wednesday and said after further review, “The data does not support continuing the restriction on donated used books. The continued access to donated books will support the goal of increased literacy, educational pursuits and appropriate idle time activity.”
When the decision to ban the donated used books was announced, it had angered and even hit one Seattle nonprofit, Books to Prisoners, hard.
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Last month, Books to Prisoners said the work it performed had nothing to do with sending anything illegal to the state’s prisons, and when that new policy came out, it affected their ability to fulfill their mission.
A volunteer for the organization, Melissa Henry, said “Everyone should have access to a book. I like to have a shared love of books and reading. So that's what I'm thinking about usually."
Books to Prisoners has been sending new and used books to inmates across the country since the 1970s. But it wasn't until 2008 that Washington state corrections officials allowed used books to be mailed to their prisoners.
That was especially good news in the state, because used books are more plentiful.
And, said Books to Prisoners board member Kris Fulsaas, a 30-year volunteer, "Most of the dictionaries we get are used. And that's our biggest request."
But in March, DOC quietly restricted its used book policy to libraries or other lending institutions, saying it has seen a sharp rise in contraband getting into its facilities.
Books to Prisoners didn't learn about it until the books it was sending started coming back. And it cried foul.
"We have never in 40 years--40 plus years--we've never had a complaint about contraband in our books," said Fulsaas.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the DOC decision surprised him, too.
Last month, Inslee said, "I'm hopeful that we can find a solution to this problem." "Most of these folks are going to become our neighbors. And we want to reduce recidivism rates. And education and the like is very, very important."
The governor's message was apparently heard, DOC met with Books to Prisoners and discussed the issue.
Herzog said that going forward that there will be a streamlined procedure to send books to prisoners, which will be consistent with current criteria when evaluating a request from an organization.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.