News & Opinion | October 15, 2018 5:00 am

Pennsylvania Has Imposed a $150 Fee on Books for Incarcerated People

The state no longer allows physical books to be sent to inmates.

Rockview Prison. A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has made it incredibly financially-taxing for incarcerated people to get access to books. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Rockview Prison. A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has made it incredibly financially-taxing for incarcerated people to get access to books. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LightRocket via Getty Images

The Pennsylvania Department of Correction recently banned the sending of physical books to incarcerated people, requiring inmates to instead purchase a $147 tablet. The new system will then require people in prison to pay a private company for access to any of the 8,500 e-books made available.  Jodi Lincoln, co-chair of books-to-prison non-profit Book ‘Em, argues in The Washington Post, that the new system is an immoral financial constraint on incarcerated people who want access to books for both education and pleasure.

Incarcerated people make less than $1 per hour while working in prison, making the $147 price tag on the iPad quite extraordinary. The Pennsylvania DOC said that the new policy was designed to prevent contraband being smuggled in through physical books, but evidence suggests that this practice is uncommon, if it exists at all.

The damage done by the new policy is not just in robbing jailed individuals of a source of moral and creative support in prison. Organizations like Book ‘Em often send prep books for the GED and SAT, as well as texts related to different forms of self-help. 

The op-ed notes that John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania DOC, is also president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, suggesting that more policies like Pennsylvania’s could appear elsewhere.