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DOCCS’ secure vendor program wants to limit contraband by shutting out care packages

1/11/2018, 10:04 a.m.
In an effort to prevent drugs and weapons from entering prisons, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community ...
Empty jail cell, prison John McAfee/CNN

In an effort to prevent drugs and weapons from entering prisons, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is cracking down on care packages. How? By working with selected vendors who provide materials for purchase to the loved ones of those incarcerated.

The secure vendor package pilot program (known as Directive #4911A) began Dec. 7 at Greene, Taconic and Green Haven Correctional facilities. According to DOCCS officials, the secure vendor package program would increase prison security by preventing contraband from entering the prisons. Officials also said the program provides food and other items at fair prices and offers payment methods via cashier checks, money orders, credit cards or inmate disbursement forms.

The five vendors initially selected for the pilot program were Access Securepak, E-Ford Commissary, Union Supply Group, Jack L. Marcus Company and Walkenhorst. A sixth company, Music by Mail, was recently added. All are well-known names in the business of prisoner care packages.

As part of Directive #4911A, family and friends of inmates can order three packages per month with an additional three packages ordered by the inmate for six monthly packages total. But the total weight of a package can’t exceed 30 pounds (via vendors’ calculation) and the total weight of food items can’t exceed 8 pounds per package.

Organizations such as the charity Books Through Bars NYC believe that this restriction hurts the way they distribute literature to inmates and limits the number of books they can send out. In a letter to New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci, the organization stated that the secure vendor program will put the long-term prospects of prisoners at risk.

“Let’s not forget that statistics show a clear link between education in prison and lowered rates of recidivism,” read their letter. “Recidivism rates are inversely proportional to level of education. Why, then, limit the tools so vital to education?”

Officials said inmates will still be allowed to order books and literature for personal use and have access to the general libraries in their facilities. Although Books Through Bars can still donate books, the items will not be distributed to specific individuals, but rather made available for possible use by the general population.

“Directive 4911A hurts people far beyond the scope of NYC Books Through Bars’ mission,” read NYC Books Through Bars’ letter. “It hurts New Yorkers in myriad other ways, inside and outside of prison: prisoners are deprived of fresh produce, visitors are no longer able to bring gifts, and small businesses are dismissed in favor of exploitative prison industry businesses. Relying on these vendors is another financial burden placed on prisoners, their friends, their loved ones and their communities.”

A DOCCS representative, on behalf of the department and Cuomo, said the points made by Books Through Bars NYC aren’t based in truth.

“Over the last two years, the Department worked to develop a secure vendor package program to increase facility safety by reducing the introduction of contraband,” said DOCCS representative Thomas Mailey. “Secure vendor programs are used by nearly 30 jurisdictions in the country and are cited as a national best practice. Furthermore, it is patently false to suggest that individuals in DOCCS custody will not have access to books, magazines or other literature.”

The department wants to fully implement the secure vendor program in other correctional facilities by this fall.