Are Wisconsin Prisoners Losing the Right to Read?

Infoshop News

Camy Matthay
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

608-455-2712
August 4, 2008

Email: maha@chorus.net
Molly Stentz/Rainbow Books
608-257-6050
John Peck

608-262-9036

ARE WISCONSIN PRISONERS LOSING THE RIGHT TO READ?

WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS BANS WISCONSIN BOOKS TO PRISONERS FROM SENDING BOOKS TO ALL PRISONERS IN WISCONSIN

Wisconsin Books to Prisoners (WBTP), an all-volunteer group established in 2006 by Rainbow Bookstore staff, volunteers, and other concerned citizens received a letter on May 13, 2008 from John Bett, Administrator at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Adult Institutions (WI-DOC-DAI) stating “effective immediately, the WI-DOC Division of Adult Institutions will no longer allow books or publications from Rainbow Bookstores in any DOC facility.”

Mr. Bett’s letter stated that DAI policy required books and other publications to be new, shipped to the facility directly from the vendor, and claimed that Rainbow Bookstore was not a vendor.

Rainbow Bookstore, however has been incorporated in WI since 1989, and has operated a retail bookstore at 426 W. Gilman St. in Madison ever since. WBTP sent this information to Mr. Bett on June 6th, who then responded on July 2nd informing Rainbow Bookstore that the DOC-DAI requires all approved inmate property items to be “received new and from an approved vendor.”

The DOC Administrative Code, however, distinguishes between inmate property DOC 309.20 and publications DOC 309.05 in specific listings of the code. Although the code for inmate property indicates that property must come from “approved retail outlets,” this language does not appear in the code for receipt of publications, nor does the code specify that books and publication must be new. The code in fact says: “The department shall facilitate inmate reading of publications, including books, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets” -a policy that should be applauded given that a wide variety of studies indicate that in-prison education reduces rates of recidivism. The policy also states that inmates may receive publications directly from commercial sources.

Wisconsin Books to Prisoners has asked Mr. Bett to supply information about how to apply for approved vendor status. The DOC has not responded.

Since their inception, Wisconsin Books to Prisoners has sent over 4000 packages of books nationwide. Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that is banning books to prisoners.

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