Prisoner advocates celebrated Friday afternoon as they got word that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would end a pilot program that forced families of prisoners in certain state prisons to use a vendor to send care packages and books to their incarcerated family members. The Alt was speaking to Jack Beck of The Correctional Association as word spread.
“We’re happy but we’re going to keep watching this. We have to remain vigilant,” said Beck, who said the program was a clear impediment for families to keep touch with their loved ones.
“I am directing the Dept. of Corrections to rescind its flawed pilot program that restricted shipment of books & care packages to inmates,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement on Twitter. “Concerns from families need to be addressed, while we redouble efforts to fight prison contraband.”
Under the now-rescinded policy, approved vendors allowed a thin selection of books that included various religious books, sex novels and how-to guides. The policy was recently featured in a popular Buzzfeed story.
Beck and other prison-reform advocates say that strong familial relationships can increase the success of prisoner rehabilitation and reentry. Gail Smith, director for the Women in Prison Project, said the state program would directly harm the ability of imprisoned mothers to stay connected to their children. “It is not uncommon for kids to send their school projects to their mothers,” said Smith. “You can’t buy something so unique from a vendor program. No program can replicate that direct contact.”
The directive—which, as of Jan. 2, was in place at Taconic, Greene, and Green Haven correctional facilities—also prevented families from sending fresh food to prisoners.
Beck said he sees the rescinded measure as a misguided attempt to increase security in the wake of the infamous prison break from the Clinton Correctional facility, an episode that was deeply embarrassing for the Cuomo administration.
“As part of a multi-faceted plan to address the flow of contraband, the Department recently launched a pilot secure vendor program in three of its facilities, similar to ones already in place in nearly 30 other states,” said Department of Correction and Community Supervision spokesman Thomas Mailey in an emailed statement. “However, concerns have been raised by families of inmates regarding the availability and price of products under this program, concerns we do not take lightly. To that end, the Governor has directed the Department to suspend this pilot program until these concerns are addressed. In the meantime, we will redouble our efforts on the other parts of our multi-faceted plan to eliminate contraband and increase safety in our prison system.”