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New Policy Banning Care Packages Makes Life Harder for N.Y. Prisoners

by Jayson Hawkins

To justify rules making life difficult for prisoners, officials often point to contraband — even when facts point in another direction. That was the case when the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) rolled out a new policy for prisoner packages in May 2022.

No longer can friends or family simply deliver a package to a prisoner. Now, under updated Department Directive 4911, any package sent to a state prisoner must come from a vendor, and it must be delivered by a carrier such as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, or FedEx. Not only will there be no more homemade meatloaf, there will be no meatloaf mailed to a state prison from any source. The new policy eliminates food packages altogether.

There is no list of approved vendors. But a “disapproved” vendor list names dozens of firms. Before ordering for a prisoner, make sure the seller is not on this list:

DOCCS said the new policy will curb the inflow of weapons and drugs. But facts suggest otherwise. From March to December 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed New York prisons to all visitors, prisoner drug overdoses somehow managed to increase.

“We all know that most of the contraband comes in through the staff,” said Barbara Allan, an advocate for prisoners and their families for 50 years. “We’ve always known it.”

Regardless of the reason for the new policy, its additional burden is unambiguous. “It places so much more stress on the families,” said Anna Adler, one of the founders of the Sing Sing Family Collective. “It breaks down a support system.”

Care packages provide an alternative to notoriously bad prison food, which is known for small portions and processed ingredients. So closing off any avenue to better nutrition will have a negative effect on prisoner health. Michael Capers, an advocate who served 12 years in a state prison, points out that the additional cost of buying care packages from a vendor and shipping them via carrier also disproportionately affects low-income and minority families, like those most prisoners come from. As of its last prisoner demographic report on January 1, 2021, DOCCS said that 77% of state prisoners were Black or Hispanic.

“What’s getting lost is the … impact on the Black community,” he said.  

Additional source: The Appeal

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