The Missouri Department of Corrections recently announced changes to the procedures through which offenders in our facilities can obtain books, magazines and other publications for personal use. There are no new restrictions on the number or type of books, newspapers or magazines people in prison can purchase, borrow, access or read. The department supports reading and makes reading materials readily available.
Beginning Sept. 25, 2023, instead of ordering a publication directly from a bona fide distributor, a friend or family member who wants to fund a book/publication purchase for someone in a Missouri state prison can add funds equaling the cost of the publication to the incarcerated person’s account, and that person can then order the publication through the purchasing process already in place.
People living in Missouri state prisons have access to tens of thousands of books, magazines, newspapers and other reading materials. They can:
- Access more than 10,000 books on their computer tablets through Project Gutenberg. This service is free.
- Access more than 220,000 books, magazines, newspapers and other publications in prison libraries. This service is free.
- Access religious texts of all kinds in prison chapel libraries. This service is free.
- Purchase books or periodical subscriptions through the ordering process already in place.
Family members and friends can add funds to the personal account of someone in a prison through Securus at securustech.net. An incarcerated person can select a book using the catalogs available in the facility and submit a purchase request through a case manager, generating what’s known as a “green check.” Our offender finance unit then deducts the funds from the purchaser’s account and places the order. Publications are shipped directly from the bona fide distributor, reducing the risk of package tampering.
This small change in procedure gives the department the ability to track the origin of each mailed publication and more efficiently keep contraband out of our facilities. Our mail room staff have discovered magazines and books with pages soaked in dangerous — even lethal — drugs or with drugs concealed in the book spines. A requirement that publications be sent only from a bona fide vendor already was in place. However, facilities receive books and other publications that appear to have been sent directly from a bona fide vendor but actually have been tampered with and then mailed in disguised packaging. In some cases, books have purchased from a vendor, tampered with, and then returned to the vendor to be shipped to a prison. The concealment of toxic substances in publications is not hypothetical; it’s a real problem with real consequences.
Dangerous drugs increasingly are available in liquid form, making them difficult to detect. Once inside a facility, these substances can and do cause significant harm not only to the intended user but also to offenders and staff who are unwittingly exposed to them. We are aware that drugs can enter a prison through more than one route, and we work hard to reduce the risk in all areas. Mailed publications constitute one way we know drugs get into prisons, and changing the publication ordering process reduces risk while minimizing inconvenience — without interfering with programming, visiting, education, volunteer programs or other important operations. The willingness of friends, family and advocates to simply take one additional step when funding the purchase of publications for incarcerated people can literally save lives.
Anyone interested in helping to ensure the quality and variety of books in prison libraries can contact Department of Corrections Library Services about making a donation.