Pennsylvania Jail Tells Inmates: Cease Ordering Books

Thomas Stultz is an avid reader.

Since arriving at Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Jail final November, he’s learn dozens of books, from the Miss Peregrine’s Residence for Peculiar Kids sequence to the unique translation of the Holy Bible.

He reads “all day, just about every single day,” he mentioned, usually buying and selling books with different inmates.

For Stultz, studying helps go the time, particularly for the reason that pandemic started.

The jail has been working on a restricted schedule, with inmates capable of go away their cells for just one hour per day. For a lot of, there’s little else to do apart from getting misplaced in a e-book.

However on Nov. 16, Stultz and most different inmates on the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) obtained a written message on the brand new tablets the jail offered to them: Books ordered from the surface would now not be allowed contained in the jail.


Screenshot Allegheny County Jail web site. Courtesy PublicSource

Inmates will as an alternative need to restrict their studying to what’s obtainable on the tablets, and what jail authorities mentioned was “wide selection” of printed texts already within the “leisure library on every pod.”

However there are simply 263 free books, together with 49 non secular titles, within the facility’s  digital library.

Based on jail authorities, the e-book coverage was adopted to guard towards contraband.

Potential contraband is “a security and safety challenge,” ACJ Warden Orlando Harper wrote in an electronic mail to PublicSource.

He mentioned the coverage “is on no account everlasting,” and added that the power is discussing with the pill supplier “how one can add further books and assets, and the way it could deal with requests for particular books.”

Along with the books obtainable on the pill, Harper mentioned inmates on every pod have entry to a leisure library and a room within the schooling division designated for donated books.

“There are over 1,000 totally different titles in that library which shall be rotated all through the power for the inmates,” Harper wrote.

Studying for Psychological Well being

However inmates and advocates fear that the new policy will additional erode inmates’ psychological well being by limiting one of many solely retailers obtainable on the jail.

With restricted recreation time, visits from family members suspended in the course of the pandemic, and a continual scarcity of medical workers, mental health issues at the jail were already a serious concern.

Research present that reading can improve mental health and is even used as a type of remedy. In Brazil and Italy, inmates can reduce their sentence by three days for every book they read.

“I get very anxious after I don’t have one thing constructive to do. And studying is a kind of issues,” Stultz mentioned. “…I believe a variety of us could be in very dire straits if we didn’t have a method to go our time constructively.”

Jodi Lincoln, co-chair of the native books-to-prisoners program Ebook ‘Em, mentioned ACJ’s e-book coverage was already “extraordinarily restrictive.” Earlier than, inmates may order books from Barnes & Noble or

She and Bethany Hallam, an Allegheny County Councilwoman and member of the county’s Jail Oversight Board, have been working to vary the coverage and permit books from different booksellers, publishers and books-to-prisoners packages.

“We weren’t a fan of the coverage they needed to start with, however this can be a step again even from that,” Lincoln mentioned.

Lincoln additionally identified that lots of the obtainable titles aren’t trendy or “culturally related” and fall wanting inmates’ pursuits.

“It’s all of the Jane Austens, however there’s not a variety of good academic assets,” she mentioned.

Some inmates PublicSource spoke to additionally raised First Modification issues: they felt their faith was not represented within the 49 non secular books obtainable on the tablets.

‘A Sense of Self’

Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project, famous that most individuals in jail haven’t been convicted of a criminal offense — but they will spend months or years awaiting trial. She mentioned books might help inmates “preserve a firmer grip on who they’re,” somewhat than letting their sense of self and social expertise deteriorate whereas incarcerated.

“Offering individuals in jail entry to a variety of studying supplies might help them battle off despair and even suicidal ideas,” she mentioned.

“Let’s face it, 214 books doesn’t represent a variety of studying supplies.”

Based on Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, managing legal professional of the Pennsylvania Institutional Legislation Venture, the Supreme Courtroom dominated that prisons cannot ban all books however as an alternative “should look at every e-book individually for inappropriate content material. ”

Entry to a mere 214 books is tantamount to a whole ban,” she wrote in an electronic mail to PublicSource. She additionally mentioned the small variety of non secular texts make it “nearly sure” that some faiths have been ignored, violating each the First Modification and the Non secular Land Use and Institutionalized Individuals Act.

Sheffield isn’t the one inmate frightened about their non secular freedom.

Each vacation season, Richard Lauffer appears to be like ahead to studying Christian literature.

“It’s one thing from my childhood, one thing from my youth that I can look again on and have a cheerful smile for Christmas,” he mentioned. “It’s meant loads to me to have, and now I can’t have it this 12 months.”

Lauffer, a Pentecostal Christian, mentioned the pill doesn’t embody his non secular sect.

“There’s nothing on there for Pentecostal individuals like myself. None by any means,” he mentioned.

On prime of bringing him “nearer to God,” Lauffer mentioned the books have been “mind meals” for himself and different inmates.

“My solely pastime is these books. And now that I don’t have them, I don’t know what I’m going to do; I’m going to be misplaced now.”

Editor’s Observe: ACJ just isn’t the primary jail facility to come across a hard-cover ban—and it doubtless received’t be the final. Based on a 2018 investigation by The Crime Report, 45 state jail methods and the federal Bureau of Prisons contract with an digital authorized database firm to switch textbooks in jail regulation libraries.

That’s up from 9 states a decade in the past. The transfer to switch print with digital media is having a major impression on how prisoners entry courtroom, the investigation discovered.

It is a condensed and barely edited model of a narrative that appeared in Public Supply this week. The complete story will be accessed right here. Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource and a former John Jay justice reporting fellow.She will be reached at or on Twitter at @julietterihl.