September 16, 2009

Groups Joined Forces to Reverse Department of Corrections’ Policy Banning Free Books Sent to Inmates from the Quest Institute

Charlottesville, VA – The ACLU of Virginia and several other rights groups joined forces to reverse a Department of Corrections policy prohibiting the Quest Institute from distributing free books to prisoners through its Books Behind Bars program.
According to Quest, it has supplied more than a million books to 11,000 prisoners free of charge over the last 20 years, and has maintained a good working relationship with prison officials during that time. Earlier this year, however, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed Quest that it was no longer allowing its books to be sent to prisoners. Although unofficial information surfaced indicating that prison officials found minor contraband in two books -- a CD had not been removed from the back of one and another contained a paper clip -- Quest was not given an explanation for the ban.
Quest was also told last month that DOC had instituted a policy of banning all free books from their facilities, but neither Quest nor any of the other rights groups have been able to obtain a copy of the policy.
“We were delighted to hear that DOC will now allow Quest to again distribute free books to prisoners,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. The ban not only infringed on the constitutional right of prisoners to read books, but also undermined the state’s interest in rehabilitating incarcerated persons. Nearly every study on corrections recommends reading in prison as a meaningful way of occupying time behind bars and as preparation for a successful re-entry into society after incarceration.”
“This is a good example of the power of the press,” added Willis. “There were a lot of groups making a lot of noise with government officials. But they were getting nowhere until the story appeared in newspapers and on websites. DOC, which couldn’t explain its rather boneheaded decision, looked as if it were against free speech, charitable services and even the best interests of the taxpayers.”
Today, DOC told Quest that it could again send books to prisoners, although no more than three per prisoner per month would be allowed.
Among the groups that took action to assist Quest were: The Rutherford Institute, Virginia C.U.R.E., Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Virginia Catholic Conference, Virginia NAACP, and the ACLU of Virginia.

CONTACT: Kent Willis, 804 644-8022