Books Behind Bars comes back

Last month after officials with the Virginia corrections department blocked Books Behind Bars, the Charlottesville non-profit organization that sends books to inmates, from conducting its activities in Virginia prisons, things looked pretty grim for the venerable program supported by local bookstore owner Kay Allison. Citing concerns about contraband (a CD and paperclips) slipping into prisons with the books sent to prisoners by Books Behind Bars and demands on corrections staff to manage the prison end of the program, corrections officials refused to permit the organization to accept any more books that BBB sent in response to requests for them by prisoners.

Thanks to interest from a variety of sources, however, Books Behind Bars is back. Corrections officials relented Wednesday 16 September. The number of books that BBB may send to any individual prisoner will be reduced and, to be sure, volunteers who prepare the shipments will need to be vigilant in ensuring that potentially dangerous items not might mistakenly or purposely be concealed in the pages of books.

The concern about contraband is understandable. Objects such as CDs and paperclips can be fashioned into weapons or tools and used for nefarious purposes by inmates. What is more, someone might purposefully slip contraband into a book shipped to a particular inmate. This is one reason that volunteers working at Books Behind Bars must not have previously been incarcerated, as former inmates might have greater awareness of what contraband to include or to whom it might be sent.

Attention to the ban by media and free-speech advocacy groups may have affected the reversal of it by Corrections Department Director Gene Johnson. In addition to newspaper coverage, the Rutherford Institute was interested in the case.

Interested readers can learn more about Books Behind Bas by listening to a radio interview with Kay Allison (thanks to National Public Radio affiliate, WMRA).

Bryan McKenzie of the Charlottesville Daily Progress has reported about the reversal by the prison officials under the headlines “State backs off prison book ban” and “Prisons lift ban on local books program.” Lisa Provence has a brief note in The Hook. Maria Glod of the Washington Post covered the reversal, too; she previously reported about the ban under the headline “A Title Wave of Controversy : Va. Ban on Prison Book Program Prompts Protests.” In “One Book in the Hole,” slated for publication Sunday in the Post, R. Dwayne Betts remembers the value of having access to books when he was imprisoned.

I have reported previously about the program on 23 November 2007, 21 July 2008, 1 July 2009, and 9 July 2009.


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Filed under Free speech, Neighborhood, News, Words

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