Washington Prisons Ban Book Donations

[me: Well, this is some bullshit]

from Bookriot


The Washington State Department of Corrections quietly rolled out a new policy via a memo on their website last month which disallows books to be donated to prisons via nonprofit organizations. So quietly, in fact, that one of the largest nonprofits that works to get donated materials to prisoners was taken by surprise to discover the change. They weren’t informed before it was implemented.

“We’re ready to fight it,” said Books to Prisoners, located in Seattle, in a tweet.

The new policy limits books to those accepted by the Washington State Library for incarcerated individuals which had already been approved by the Prisons Division, used books from the Monroe City Library directed specifically to the correctional facilities in Snohomoish County, and to those used books purchased by prisoners enrolled in pre-approved correspondence educational courses from the bookstore linked to the educational facility in which they’re enrolled. Individuals have never been allowed to make donations to prisons; those have always had to go through either nonprofits or bookstores.

As Books to Prisoners pointed out, this severely limits access to literature for incarcerated individuals, and especially impacts those in facilities outside Monroe County.

One of the reasons noted for this sudden policy change is the lack of staff in mail rooms to determine whether or not materials sent are appropriate or whether they’re hiding contraband. Likewise, additional funding and resources are not available to the Washington State Library (WSL). In a tweet, Books to Prisoners notes, “WSL is being used as a scapegoat–they have no special search procedures.” When asked if they’ve reached out to WSL about the change, Books to Prisoners noted, “It has been confirmed that they have no special staff or screening procedures, nor are they being given any extra staff or money to deal with any influx of books. The policy is using them as a pawn.”

This highlights exactly why Books to Prisoners and similar nonprofits do the work that they do — these facilities are underfunded and that lack of funding impacts the individuals who use those books to improve themselves and their own literacy. These book donations, which are thoroughly inspected by those at the nonprofit for suitability, fill a critical role in helping those incarcerated who otherwise lack access to vital educational tools.

Books to Prisoners has been sending free books to prisoners across the country since 1973. They note in a tweet “Attempted bans pop up sometimes, most recently by Pennsylvania DOC in 2018, always using same vague “safety” justification. In 45 years, our books have never had contraband.” They added, “Given that we’ve sent books without issue since 1973, and currently send to 12,000 unique prisoners across almost every state in the country each year, it would be bewildering if after 46 years of work as an award-winning nonprofit we decided to start transporting contraband.”

Prison libraries are severely underfunded, and there’s a lack of staff as well. As Books to Prisoners notes, “Furthermore, the reason that we send books directly to the hands of prisoners is that libraries are chronically underfunded and understaffed. In Washington, each branch has just 1 librarian. Only open certain hours. Going back to PA as an example, prisoners capped at 90 min/WEEK.”

Barring access to literature, which is what this policy does, hinders those who need it most. Other states, including New York, have tried similar bans and they’ve been rescinded. The ACLU has stepped in in similar attempted book bans in prison as well.  Criminal justice reform includes ensuring that those who are incarcerated have rights to literature and education, so steps like these by the Washington Department of Corrections are but steps backwards. To combat recidivism, literacy is one of the crucial steps forward, and yet, situations like these further hinder rehabilitation and self-development of those who most need it.


If you’re in Washington or anywhere in the US, speak up about this policy to help get it changed. Contact Prisons Division Correctional Manager Roy Gonzalez at rgonzalez@docl.wa.gov or by phone at 360-725-8839. 

Sign the petition set up by Books to Prisoners to stop the ban.

Likewise, donate to Books to Prisoners to help support their efforts in getting the policy reversed and keep an eye on their Twitter stream for phone blitzes and other direction action plans you can participate in.

Spread the word. Share this and any tweets, petitions, or phone blitz information among your friends, family, and colleagues.

April Author Birthdays

April 1

Edmond Rostandhappy birthday pile of books.jpg

Augusta Baker

Samuel Ray Delaney


April 2

Hans Christian Andersen

Émile Zola

Sue Townsend


April 3

George Herbert

Washington Irving

Jane Goodall


April 4

Robert Emmet Sherwood

Marguerite Duras

Maya Angelou

Joanna Reis


April 5

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Booker T Washington

Robert Bloch

Anthony Horowitz

Richard Peck


April 6

Graeme Base


April 7

Charles Baudelaire

Paule Marshall


April 8

Trina Schart Hyman


April 9

Margaret Peterson Haddix


April 10

William Hazlitt

Joseph Pulitzer

Paul Theroux

Martin Waddell


April 11

Glenway Wescott

Leo Rosten

Gary Soto


April 12

Beverly Cleary

Tom Clancy

Scott Turow


April 13

Nella Larsen

Marguerite Henry

Samuel  Beckett

Eudora Welty

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Erik Christian Haugaard


April 14

James Branch Cabell

Arnold Toynbee


April 15

Henry James

Waverly Root

Jacqueline Briggs Martn


April 16

Anatole France

Gertrude Chandler Warner

John Millington Synge

Garth Williams

Kingsley Amis


April 17

Karen Blixen

Thornton Wilder

Cynthia Ozick


April 18

Richard Harding Davis


April 19

Etheridge Knight


April 20

Mary Hoffman


April 21

Charlotte Bronté

Thomas McMahon

Kole Omsotoso

Barbara Park


April 22

Henry Fielding

Ellen Glasgow

Eileen Christelow

James Norman Hall

Vladimir Nabokov

Louise Glück

Paula Fox


April 23

William Shakespeare

Edwin Markham

JP Donleavy

Charles Johnson


April 24

Anthony Trollope

Robert Penn Warren

Sue Grafton


April 25

Padget Powell

Maud Hart Lovelace


April 26

Marcus Aurelius

Bernard Malamud

Patricia Reilly Giff


April 27

Edward Gibbon

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Ludwig Bemelmans

John Burningham

Nancy Shaw

Steven D’amico

August Wilson


April 28

Harper Lee

Lois Duncan

Terry Pratchett

Carolyn Forché

Amy Hest


April 29

William Randolph Hearst

Jill Paton Walsh

Yusef Komunyakaa


April 30

Alice B Toklas

Annie Dillard

Visiting SE PDX Little Free Libraries

Another in an occasional series of Little Free Libraries in LFL 1432.jpgSoutheast Portland.

I went a different route home from work recently, and was treated to this. I’ve been meaning to visit this Little Free Library for a while, but hadn’t made the opportunity before. LFL #1432 is based at Busy Bee Preschool, at 7618 SE Duke Street.

busy bees sign.jpg

There wasn’t much of anything in the library today. I wonder what kind of traffic it usually has. I was in some sort of publicly-available wifi dead zone – I tried a couple of times to open the Little Locator app to mark it, but never was able to get in. Maybe I can plan a day to go this route again, and take some books for it.

Featured in the library this week: homemade medicine

This week, Division92 Little Free Library is featuring books to help you make your own medicine. Please use common sense, please don’t overdo it (no “if some is helpful, more is better”!), please consider checking with your healthcare professional for any allergies or conflicts with other medicines or supplements you are currently taking, or with any illnesses or conditions you already have.

Featured in the library this week

This week the Division92 Little Free Library is featuring the songbooks of Sandra Boynton. You probably know her best from her massively popular card:

Image result for hippo birdies two ewes card

Did you know she also writes (and co-writes) children’s songs?  And convinces hugely popular celebrities to sing them? We’re putting out her first three songbooks. Unfortunately, the CDs are missing from each of the books. HOWEVER!  You can find the songs on YouTube! For instance:

Where else can you hear Kate Winslet & Weird Al Yankovic singing a duet? When was the last time you heard Scott Bakula sing?  What other album contains performances by both Hootie & the Blowfish AND Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme?