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Used Law Books Not Good Enough in California

The California Department of Corrections bought used law books from National Law Resources of Chicago for its High Desert State Prison last year at a savings to taxpayers of $69,000. But, the CDC claimed some of the used books contained "paper clips, staples and other items that could be fashioned into weapons" and abandoned their short-lived experiment in saving money angering lawmakers and setting off a lobbying war between used and new law book sellers.

"It's much more expensive to buy new books than used books," said California Senator Dan Boatwright, D-Concord. "I think the public is really upset over prisoners being treated like they were entitled to Cadillacs instead of Fords." Boatwright said other state prison systems and the federal prison system purchase used law books.

The nation's largest supplier of used law books, National Law, accused the Corrections Department of bowing to pressure from lobbyist Bob Wilson, a former San Diego legislator who represents new law book publisher Bancroft Whitney.

"The reason (the CDC won't buy used law books) has to do with someone wanting to do business with the publisher," said Rodger Mitchell, president of National Law. "Anyone can speculate what it is. Whether it's a friendship or a bribe, I have no idea."

The High Desert State Prison (New Susanville) houses general population Level IV prisoners who are allowed to have paper clips and staples. The shelves and bunks in their cells are made of sheet metal which may, with determination, be fashioned into weapons. So, the claim that a few paper clips and staples posed such a threat to the security of the prison that it was necessary to spend 42% more to buy new law books is patently false.

Wilson said National Law's used book bid was higher than Bancroft-Whitney's bid for new books and that's why the CDC changed their mind on buying used. "You would think it would be cheaper to buy a used Chevy rather than a new Chevy," said Wilson. "It shows you the tremendous profit they must be making."

"That's wrong," said Rhonda Smith, chief buyer for the state's Department of General Services. Smith said the New Susanville purchase last year drew just two bids--$165,946 for new books from West's (owned by the same Canadian firm as Bancroft-Whitney) and $96,871 from National Law. The CDC did buy one lot of new books from West's cheaper than used ones.

The California prison system has 80 complete law libraries and 38 partial ones. Prison officials estimate each library costs $60,000, bringing the total to about $5 million. The CDC also spends $1 million a year for law book updates.

National Law has had a very tough time selling used law books to the CDC. Prison officials reject about 12% of used books for such "defects" as paper clip marks or dog-eared pages. Dave Tristan, a CDC division chief, claimed it cost an additional $24,000 to redirect staff throughout the Department to examine used law books for defects and alleged dangerous contraband. Rick Reed, Executive Director of Citizens Against Outrageous Spending, said the CDC's objections are a smokescreen. He said metal detectors could be used to find potential weapon stock and staff have to inspect all incoming books, new or used.

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