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Inmates call for changes to regional jail book policy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A misunderstanding at two regional jails led to a ban on publishers sending books directly to inmates last month, an official said.

Several inmates at South Central Regional Jail and Southern Regional Jail successfully advocated to have their rights to those books reinstated last week.

Inmates at those jails can again own up to three books, said John Lopez, director of programs for the State Regional Jail Authority.

Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, a leading state environmental activist, said the problem came to his attention after an incarcerated friend at South Central Regional Jail wrote a letter to him in early September.

His friend said authorities posted notices inside the jail announcing that inmates could no longer receive books directly from publishers, Louis-Rosenberg said. Other inmates later wrote to Louis-Rosenberg expressing their frustration with the change.

A fellow member of Louis-Rosenberg's group, Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival (RAMPS), contacted Lopez who resolved the problem almost immediately.

Part of the misunderstanding, Lopez said, was that both jails wanted to promote their own on-site libraries. Individuals at those jails were also frustrated by publishers sending seven or eight books to one inmate at a time, he said. Inmates are allowed to have up to three books, not including religious materials.

Lopez said there would be no changes to the Regional Jail Authority's book policy in the future. The regional jails are revamping their libraries, he said, and that would reduce the need for outside books to be brought in.

It's important for inmates to have access to their own reading materials, he said.

"We definitely want to provide them with reading materials because that's good for rehabilitation and education," Lopez said. "We were never going to cut them out, we would never do that."

Louis-Rosenberg shared letters from two inmates to underscore Lopez's point.

Charles Thaxton wrote that books were his stress relief while he was inside South Central Regional Jail in September.

"When they stop the books from coming in, then what other ways will there be to ease the stress and aggravation?" Thaxton wrote.

William Price wrote that he's been at South Central Regional Jail for three months and was tired of reading recycled, damaged books.

"For some of us, reading is a major form of stress relief and it gives us a temporary escape from these walls," Price wrote. "Particularly for myself, I enjoy reading material that I can learn and better myself from. None of these types of books are available."

Reach Travis Crum at 304-348-5163 or travis.crum@wvgazette.com

 


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