PAY-PER-MINUTE E-READERS IN WEST VIRGINIA PRISONS JEOPARDIZE ACCESS TO LITERATURE

Apple’s iPad (left) and Amazon’s Fire (right), two popular tablet computers. Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Income earned (or not) by inmates v. charges for reading-time in the feature below: In 1865, the United States passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which banned slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This provided a legal basis for slavery to continue in the country.  

As of 2018, many prisoners in the US perform work. In Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, prisoners are not paid at all for their work. In other states, as of 2011, prisoners were paid between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour. Federal Prison Industries paid innmates an average of $0.90 per hour in 2017. In many cases the penal work is forced, with prisoners being punished by solitary confinment if they refuse to work.From 2010 to 2015 and again in 2016, and in 2018 some prisoners in the US refused to work, protesting for better pay, better conditions, and for the end of forced labor. Strike leaders are currently punished with indefinite solitary confinement. Forced prison labor occurs in government-run prisons and private prisons.

The prison labor industry makes over $1 billion USD per year selling products that inmates make, while inmates are paid very little or nothing in return.In California, 2,500 incarcerated workers are fighting wildfires for only $1 per hour, which saves the state as much as $100 million a year.” MORE Wikipedia



“West Virginia’s recent institution of pay-per-minute electronic tablets in prisons is predatory and would effectively limit prisoners’ access to free books,” according to PEN America. The program allows incarcerated people to read a limited selection of books from a free online library, but the service provider will charge up to 5¢ per minute to access this content. The state sharing some of the revenue. The private vendor, Global Tel Link, also reportedly maintains the right to raise prices without state permission.

“If you want to demonstrate how misguided prison policies towards access to literature have become, this serves as a perfect example,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “Incarcerated people are actually being charged money to read books already in the public domain, and the state gets a portion of the revenue. Not only is this a predatory policy that will actively disincentivize incarcerated people from reading, but it rewards the state for being complicit in these restrictions. After all, do we really expect West Virginia prison officials to develop more permissive policies towards book access now that the state is literally receiving a monetary award for funneling incarcerated people towards these pay-per-minute plans?”

In its September 2019 report Literature Locked Up PEN America examined the recent trend of prisons deploying e-readers. In November 2018, responding to public pressure, the state of Pennsylvania reversed a policy that banned physical book orders and required prisoners to buy e-tablets in order to read. Civil rights groups have increasingly warned that prisons may turn to e-tablets as a lower-cost substitute for physical services — such as law libraries or access to legal assistance — in ways that ultimately degrade the substance of incarcerated people’s constitutional rights.

“The average person may see a headline that says ‘prisoners receive e-tablets’ and think that such an agreement can only be beneficial for the incarcerated population’s right to read. Not necessarily,” Tager said. “We have to look at how these policies are being implemented in practice. Are they truly enlarging incarcerated people’s access to literature? Or are they further entrenching the idea that access to literature is a privilege for incarcerated people and a source of profit for the state? In the case of West Virginia, charging for per-minute access to books in the public domain clearly falls in the latter category. Access to free books should be free. Period.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America, Wikipedia, and PrisonPolicy.org

PEN America a stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Literature Locked Up: First Amendment and the fight for access to books and magazines in our prisons

Photo courtesy of Johannes Jansson/norden.org under CC BY 2.5 dk

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”  James Baldwin



Last month a federal court ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections was overly broad in restricting certain publications to people in state prisons, and ordered the department to establish clearer rules that are consistent with the First Amendment. The decision stems from a 2015 lawsuit brought by the magazine Prison Legal News, which alleged that state corrections officials were unfairly withholding the magazine from incarcerated subscribers.

“The ruling out of Arizona is a significant step forward for the First Amendment and for our fight for access to literature in sites of incarceration,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “The court was right to recognize that Arizona’s policies towards book access give too much discretion to individual employees, who are then empowered to implement these policies in arbitrary or overly restrictive ways, and to demand narrow definitions for what content is prohibited.”

“PEN America has previously called for more explicit policies that more narrowly define the bounds for rejecting books, and we hope that Arizona’s revised policies will meet this mark,” Benavidez continued. “We need regulations that better enshrine the First Amendment within prison walls, and that recognize the importance of access to literature for our incarcerated population. We believe that this ruling can serve as an example for other jurisdictions to recognize the fundamental right to read where it remains threatened in American prisons.”

In September 2019, PEN America released Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban. a research report on the state of the right to read in American prisons. The report concluded that “book restrictions in American prisons are often arbitrary, overbroad, opaque, subject to little meaningful review, and overly dismissive of incarcerated people’s right to access literature behind bars.”

Among the recommendations, PEN America concluded that state and federal officials should develop more explicit policies governing book restrictions; implement periodic review of their restriction policies; and ensure that prison officials strongly consider the literary, educational, and rehabilitative merit of any publication before determining its admissibility.

This post is courtesy of PEN America.

***

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

About / Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium

Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

National Banned Books Week (Sept. 22-28) Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons

“Literature Locked Up” will engage authors, readers, and policymakers to support an end to prison book bans nationwide.”



America’s prison system implements that largest book ban in the United States. This year, as part of national Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 28), the free expression and literary organization PEN America will launch a weeklong initiative to shed light on the practice of banning books in the nation’s prisons and jails. “Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019” will feature events across the country, online activities, and public education to highlight restrictions of the right to read for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.

“With all of our societal focus on how to make the criminal justice system more just and less self-defeating, vindicating the right to read in prison is an obvious and essential step,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “Yet tens of thousands of books are banned in prisons. Systems ban access to everything from classics including Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Paradise, to coloring and self-help books. These restrictions are stunningly arbitrary and defeat the ability of incarcerated people to learn, explore, and envision a future. We call on states and the federal government to lift these pointless bans and uphold the freedom to read.”

Increasingly, state and federal prisons are dramatically restricting book deliveries or shutting them down entirely. The federal Bureau of Prisons recently attempted to institute an unexplained 30 percent markup on books ordered by or for incarcerated readers, ultimately rescinding that idea under public pressure. Texas’ Department of Criminal Justice has banned over 15,000 books from its prison system, including books by Alice Walker, John Grisham, Michelle Alexander, Jenna Bush Hager, Frederick Douglass, and Bob Dole. Throughout Banned Books Week, PEN America and its members will highlight this injustice and call for reform.

As part of “Literature Locked Up,” PEN America has launched a national petition drive urging the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to convene hearings on book banning in the nation’s prisons. The organization is coordinating with bookstores and other partners across the country to highlight book bans, including events in Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, and Texas. And alongside the Dramatists Legal Fund, PEN America will co-present Banned Together, a series of performances across the country of shows that have been censored or challenged on the American stage.

“Banning books is a serious threat to free inquiry and free expression,” said award-winning author and PEN America board member Dinaw Mengestu. “We’re calling on state prison systems across the country to review their policies and, where possible, rescind arbitrary book bans. And we’re asking members of Congress to review book restriction practices at the federal level. Oftentimes all that stands between prisoners and a transformative work of literature are arbitrary decisions made by wardens and prison mailrooms. It just shouldn’t be that way.”

PEN America has long been at the forefront of supporting the right of incarcerated people to create and access literature, including mentoring, honoring, and finding audiences for writers currently in prison through the Prison and Justice Writing Program. Many of those writers will be featured in a series of public readings co-sponsored by PEN America and The Poetry Project. That series, BREAK OUT, will include dozens of public readings events for the month of September.

Read more about the “Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019” project; see events related to the initiative; and follow our social channels to get live updates as more events are added to the calendar. You can also listen to a playlist of banned songs assembled by PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.

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