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Md. jails rescind controversial prison book policy

Maryland prison officials said Monday they are rescinding a new policy restricting inmates access to books less than two weeks after the ACLU of Maryland raised objections to the plan.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services announced in April that prisoners could only order books through two approved vendors with limited access to titles. Books from family and third parties could no longer be received, and prisoners were limited to 10 books from prison libraries at once.

The policy was aimed at preventing drugs from being smuggled into prisons and was “related to a specific, ongoing investigation,” according to a letter sent to the ACLU rescinding the policy.

The ACLU had previously threatened suit if the policy was not rescinded by Monday.

“Although thwarting corruption and preventing the introduction of contraband remain chief concerns, the Department recognizes the importance of enabling access to books,” the letter from Secretary Stephen T. Moyer states. “The Department strongly believes it can continue prioritizing the safety and security of its correctional facilities while fostering the rehabilitative component of corrections through literature.”

The policy will be revised to bolster the screening process for books received in the mail, according to officials.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had called the new policy a violation of prisoners’ First Amendment rights because it severely limited their access to books, including literary classics that explore the human condition and would assist in rehabilitation.

“Books play an important role in transcending the inherent monotony and isolation of prison and are frequently recognized for their transformative impact when people are separated from the outside world,” the ACLU stated. “Depriving prisoners of opportunities to read and limiting their ability to do so is fundamentally at odds with the rehabilitative ideal.”

The books rendered generally unavailable to prisoners under the new policy included “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and the works of acclaimed black authors Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Dubois, Alex Haley and Maya Angelou, the ACLU stated in its letter.

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer Steve Lash contributed to this report.

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