California: prison book policy irks Hispanic families

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Apr 22 11:25:22 UTC 2007,1,5995193.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

Book policy upsets O.C. inmates' families Local sellers also criticize
rule at jail, which limits deliveries to publishers, major distributors
for security reasons.

By Jennifer Delson Times Staff Writer April 21, 2007

A long-standing policy at an Orange County jail that puts tighter
restrictions on book deliveries to inmates than those imposed in prisons
has irked immigrant families of inmates and local booksellers. Among the
books that have been returned to sender are Spanish-language Bibles and
other Christian titles. Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Damon Micalizzi
said books must come directly from a publisher or a major book distributor
for security reasons. State and federal prisons allow any book shipments
as long as the tomes are paperbacks.

The Orange County policy is a sticking point for immigrant families that
frequent small shops that carry Spanish-language titles, say booksellers
and relatives of some inmates. Many of the books sent are religious or
motivational, they say. Religious books sold at St. Teresa's Catholic Shop
in Santa Ana are published in Mexico and Colombia. Requiring inmates'
families to directly contact these publishers "means the county doesn't
want the prisoners to get books," said shop owner Sam Romero. Although
Micalizzi said the policy had stood for more than a decade, inmates'
relatives and bookstore owners said their shipments of paperback books
were accepted until recently.

Rueben Martinez, who owns Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery in Santa
Ana, said that 25% of his Santa Ana business has historically stemmed from
jail shipments. But in the last six months, he said, that piece of his
business has dwindled to 5%. "All of a sudden, they sent back the
envelopes with a stamp that says it must come from the publisher," he
said. "Our clients won't go to publishers for these books, most of which
are in Spanish. Our business could grow more if they made it friendly to
the inmates." On April 10, Maria Lazarit bought a motivational book at St.
Teresa's and asked Romero to send it to her son at Theo Lacy Jail in
Orange. The book was returned.

"To me, it's a violation of the prisoners' rights to exercise their
religion," Lazarit said. Her son, Wsbaldo Lazarit, is serving one year on
robbery and drug charges, according to county records. "What I was trying
to do was to help my son to think about his life in a more positive way.
Why would they would be against that?" she asked. Micalizzi said the
county has no problem with religious books. In fact, he says, Bible
deliveries that don't meet the regulations are not refused but made
available to the general population. As a result, he said, there are
plenty in the facilities. However, he said, the county rejects books that
don't come from publishers because "there's a possibility something could
be in one of the pages that we don't want in the jail: There could be
little bits of drugs in the pages."

Micalizzi said shipments from local booksellers are barred because there
is a greater likelihood that the shipper knows the inmate or could be
influenced by an inmate's relative to put contraband in the package.
Micalizzi said there had been no change in the policy's enforcement in
recent months, although inmates' relatives and booksellers disagreed.
Romero, owner of St. Teresa's, said he had sent about two dozen books
annually for more than eight years to California jails. About three months
ago, those sent to Theo Lacy began coming back, while shipments to two
other Orange County jails went through, he said. Paul Wright, editor of
the 6,000-circulation Prison Legal News newspaper, has repeatedly sued
states with policies that prevent inmates from receiving publications.
Prison Legal News is preparing a lawsuit against Utah for a policy that
bars book shipments, except those that come directly from Barnes & Noble,
he said.

The Orange County policy, Wright said, "sounds pretty troubling for sure,"
because it could restrict inmates' abilities to obtain certain books, he
said. Bill Sesa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation, said the state policy was not as strict. Shipments are
accepted at state prisons as long as the books are paperback and come from
a bookseller or a publisher. The materials are reviewed in a mailroom
before inmates receive them. "We don't want to censor materials but
prevent contraband," he said. "You are working in an environment where
dental floss can become a deadly weapon."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said its
jails allow inmates to receive books from booksellers after checking to
see whether they can be turned into a weapon, promote violence or have
sexually explicit content. When Orange County does not allow shipments
from local bookstores, it's "a lost opportunity for the people in the
jail," Martinez said. "Books are the best gift you can give anyone,
especially in a jail, where there's plenty of time to read.",1,5995193.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

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