Stop Washington from banning free books for prisoners

Stop Washington from banning free books for prisoners

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Books to Prisoners Seattle started this petition to Washington DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair and

UPDATE - 4-10-19
The Seattle Times has just reviewed the list of the supposed incidents of contraband found in mailed books in 2018. This list of alleged contraband was the basis for this ban as well as a later press release. After review, the Seattle Times determined that none of the alleged incidents involved mailed books of any kind, much less Books to Prisoners. This ban, therefore, is completely baseless and MUST be repealed immediately. Read more.

UPDATE #2 - 4-10-19 (4 pm)

The Washington Department of Corrections has published a memo to update its Used Publications Policy.

After review, we find that it is insufficient and leaves plenty of need for negotiation with the DOC during our scheduled Friday meeting.

Our goal is not just to restore access for Books to Prisoners Seattle but for all concerned community groups which share the mission of providing quality, free used books to prisoners in Washington.

On page 2, for example, the DOC has explicitly written that the practice of allowing for each facility superintendent to approve or deny nonprofit vendors will continue—this is an example of a policy which has caused plenty of frustration over the past years, as the DOC heads have used it as a basis to encroach ever further on the abilities of prison book programs to send books.

We are very happy that first steps are being taken, but there's still a lot of work to ensure that prisoners retain necessary access to books!


The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) has just prohibited all nonprofit organizations from mailing free, used books to every prisoner in this state.

Across the country, dozens of volunteer nonprofits respond directly to prisoners' book requests; together, these groups send about 200,000 free books every year to people behind bars, from westerns and science fiction novels to books about starting businesses after release. Access to information in prisons is a lifeline for literacy and skill-building; the humble dictionary, a book which most of us no longer possess as a physical book, is the number one request by prisoners because good sources of information are so scarce.

For the many prisoners and their families who can't afford to buy new books, free, used books are a lifeline; for prisoners in solitary confinement (around 80,000 at any given time), these book donations may be the only reading material they have. We love prison libraries and their hard-working staff, but they are chronically underfunded, understaffed, and not accessible for all prisoners or open when needed. In Pennsylvania, for example, prisoners are allowed a maximum of 90 minutes per week at the prison library. Additionally, books checked out from prison libraries must be returned and may not be available at any given time due to circulation; by contrast, books mailed from prison book programs belong to prisoners forever as personal property. Four facilities in Washington don't even have on-site libraries, an indication of the ongoing need for services like prison book programs to fill the gaps.

This ban will deny incarcerated people in Washington access to literally thousands of books.

Groups like the Prison Book Program in Massachusetts, Books to Prisoners in Washington, and LGBT Books to Prisoners in Wisconsin have successfully sent books without incident to Washington prisoners since 1973. Sadly, this isn't the first time that a DOC has attempted to ban our programs. In 2018 alone, both Pennsylvania and New York attempted similar bans. Most attempted bans cite security reasons -- though few (if any) can cite a single instance where a prison book program ever sent contraband material.

Together, we stopped these attempted bans in Pennsylvania and New York in 2018; let's stop it now in Washington.

Please join other prison book program supporters to contact the Washington DOC and Governor Jay Inslee's office and demand that this new policy -- a memo amended to policy 450.100 -- be rescinded at once. #PrisonersNeedBooks

(The memo in question, "03-12-19 Memo for employees", can be found here, below the entry for 450.100:

(The second memo, dated 04-10-19, can be read here:

Media coverage:

Books to Prisoners social media:

I started this petition because...
I have been a volunteer with Books to Prisoners in Seattle since 2012. I have seen firsthand the power of books behind bars as tools for learning, self-empowerment, and as a reminder that prisoners have not been forgotten. Learn more about Books to Prisoners Seattle at

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At 25,000 signatures, this petition becomes one of the top signed on!