A Seattle non-profit group, Books to Prisoners, providing free used books to Washington prisoners for over 45 years, said it was recently caught off guard by an abrupt decision to ban those books from entering state prisons.

For decades, the organization has been sending used novels, non-fiction volumes, magazines, and their most-requested books, dictionaries, to inmates across the country.

Inmates write letters to Books to Prisoners with requests, and volunteers send back bundles of reading materials.

But recently, prisons in the Washington State Department of Corrections started sending those book packages back with handwritten notes on the outside of the package reading, "no used books, not authorized."

These book donations, which are thoroughly inspected by those at the nonprofits for suitability, fill a critical role in helping those incarcerated who otherwise lack access to vital educational tools.

Books to Prisoners investigated and found a letter buried on the DOC website, quietly announcing a ban on used books sent by non-profits.


Nobody at the prisons in Washington told Books to Prisoners this was happening and they feel this is a flimsy excuse as, "there hasn't been a single instance where we've ever been rejected because of anything in the book, any drugs, any knives, or any tools, or anything else like that,” said a volunteer member of Books to Prisoners.

Furthermore, “If there was any indication that there had been a security risk from us or any of the other non-profit organizations that send in books, then talk to us and tell us what the security concern is and back it up with facts."

The rule change means Washington prisoners will have to rely on prison libraries, which Books to Prisoners said are unable to keep up with demand for reading materials and are often understaffed and severely underfunded.