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Missouri Expands Prison Mail Ban to Include Books Sent by Family, Friends

After banning state prisoners from receiving physical mail the year before, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) extended the ban on September 25, 2023, to include books sent to prisoners from family or friends.

The rule change means the only way to send a book to a state prisoner is by depositing money in his trust account, which the prisoner can then use to purchase a book directly from an approved vendor. Dylan Pyles, who runs a book-­distributing nonprofit called Liberation Lit, said the idea that prisoners have enough money to buy books is “pretty ridiculous.”

Also ridiculous is this: Before the rule change, those outside prison ordered the same books to be shipped from the same vendors. Noted Missouri Prison Reform Executive Director Lori Curry, “[C]iting drugs as the reason for this new policy…makes no sense unless they’re accusing Amazon of, you know, doing drugs and books.”

DOC Communications Director Karen Pojmann defended the change, saying prisoners were receiving illegal drugs soaked into the pages of books smuggled inside packages cleverly mimicking those from legitimate vendors. But Curry pointed out that since DOC banned physical mail in July 2022, “overdoses have increased, [and] deaths from overdoses have increased,” as PLN has also reported. [See: PLN, Apr. 2023, p.60.]

So who really benefits from these changes? Securus Technologies provides mail digitization for DOC, forwarding prisoner mail to its Tampa facility for scanning into an electronic file, which is then made available to prisoners on tablets that the company also provides. Though the digitization service is free to prisoners, the company offers other tablet products for a fee, including games, music and email—which, unsurprisingly, delivers messages between prisoners and their loved ones in a fraction of the time as the digitization service. A company subsidiary, JPay, also provides management services for prisoner trust accounts, collecting a fee for each deposit, of which there will now be more under the new rule.

“Who is benefiting from this?” echoed Clinique Chapman, the associate director of another nonprofit, the Restoring Promise Initiative. “The companies. They’re capitalizing on the backs of those who are incarcerated.”  


Sources: Missouri Independent, St. Louis Public Radio

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