Freedom To Purchase/Send Food & Clothing To DOCCS Inmates

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To: Commissioner: Anthony J. Annucci, Governor: Andrew M. Cuomo, Family & Friends of Inmates

This is the latest episode by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in its seemingly never ending crusade to further punish its inmates, their families, and you, yes … you!

By now, we should all be familiar, to some degree with the Clinton Correctional Facility escape a couple of years ago when two inmates (Richard Matt and David Sweat) escaped with the aid of staff, the cause clearly ‘dereliction of duty’ by DOCCS officials and the two escapees themselves. Through all this, one undisputable fact remains, that each and every inmate currently incarcerated in the state of New York is not and should not be punished and held responsible for the actions of those two individuals. 

This is the perceived belief of inmates and DOCCS personnel alike and believed to be the root cause of new restrictions being implemented at several prisons in the state in the near future. For some unknown reason, many have come to believe that inmates are allowed countless privileges and luxuries. Not true. Prison is a harsh painful reality, mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially, not just for the inmate but also for his/her family and loved ones. 

The DOCCS is implementing a new package room directive, Directive 4911A which is to super-cede the current Directive 4911 and is being touted as this great new change that is supposed to be in the best interest of the inmates. It’s supposed to address and prevent theft and save inmates from having to pay for return shipping fees for disallowed items, and grant access to allowed items at the lowest possible pricing. I have to admit that this sounds like a great idea if only I weren’t such a skeptic. I asked myself who other than DOCCS personnel have access to inmate packages, no-one. If not for the constant theft of inmate packages by DOCCS personnel, there would be no need for a new directive. Concerning inmate payments for returning disallowed items, if items ordered by an inmate are allowable according to the current directive why are DOCCS personnel creating their own policies, not following the directive and forcing inmates to return allowable items at the inmate’s expense. As far as granting inmates the lowest possible prices for allowable items, the inmate already gets the absolute lowest prices available via his/her family or loved one who at present can now order some if not all requested items off of the Internet. Families and loved ones spend far less now sending food and clothing packages from vendors of their choice compared to what is being offered from the proposed vendors being selected by DOCCS. The smaller quantities offered and the inflated prices of the items offered by these vendors will rob families and loved ones of enormous savings. Most family members are able to purchase food and clothing items from their local community stores and shops at discounted prices. The can of tuna that you purchased at your local supermarket for $ .99 will cost you $3.95 a 300% markup, the Tuna Creation pouches you picked up from Target for $.99 will cost you $2.50 from these vendors. That plain white t-shirt you purchased for $3.99 may now cost you $ 6.50, that 1 lb bag of cashews purchased locally for $ 7.99 will cost you $9.90 for a mere 9 ounces. Now really, does this sound like savings to you? In addition to allotting inmates a wider variety of food and clothing choices from home purchases, home packages also result in the following; 1) you get the best bang for your buck, 2) you support and stimulate your local economy, and 3) you are paying taxes on your purchases which contribute to the building of new schools etc. in your city, county or state. 

Under the new Directive 4911A, inmates can choose to purchase up to 48 lbs of food a month compared to the current 35 lbs per month now being offered, a 13 lb increase, Wow! However, it will cost the inmate $ 41.70 in shipping fees to access the 48 lb limit because the directive dictates that you can only order 8 lbs of food at a time, which means the inmate would have to make 6 separate purchases resulting in 5 additional shipping fees of $ 6.95 per shipment. 

 What will happen to the small businesses and startups that rely on inmate purchases and orders to sustain their existence? As it stands now, small businesses that do business with DOCCS must have $250,000 of stock on hand at all times, must have 5 or more inventory items, and cannot employ felons. What happened to Startup New York and on the other hand, prisoner rehabilitation? 

In my opinion, not much is wrong with the current 4911 Directive. Some of the language needs to be more clear and precise in certain sections of the directive and some dated restrictions need to be modified (i.e. $ 50.00 max value on certain items, shirts that happen to have a stripe on the inside of the shirt up by ones shoulder blades that is a different color than the outside of the shirt should not be considered a two tone garment for that sole reason alone and therefore not allowed, gloves made from unnatural fibers like thinsulate or blended materials should be allowed … as it stands now the only gloves allowed are 100% natural fibers like cotton or wool which are merely glove liners, not gloves and not suitable for winter weather at all!). 

 It is my belief that a simple memo from the Commissioner to all facilities requiring that all DOCCS personnel strictly follow Directive 4911 as it is written would resolve all issues and extinguish the need for a new directive. The memo should also state that, under no circumstances should DOCCS personnel take it upon themselves to create their own policies or deviate from the directive because they feel an inmate should not be allowed certain items due to their own personal prejudices, emotions, feelings, vendettas, or illogical reasoning.



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