That’s the sense one gets from reading this Seattle Weekly piece on the trouble inmates have getting books from the outside unless they come from “approved vendors”:
“While Washington state isn’t alone in only allowing new books (Oregon also only allows books from publishers and major national distributors like Amazon.com), its adherence to the approved vendor policy has made it, according to [Books to Prisoners volunteer Andy Chan], ‘a pretty tough nut’ compared to other states. [Risa Klemme, public information officer at Airway Heights Corrections Center west of Spokane] says this is a moot point, as prisoners still have access to all the reading material they’d want. ‘We have a library,’ she explains. ‘It’s not like they don’t have access to any books.’
“Indeed, Airway Heights’ library is open 20 hours a week, but how long a library is open for and how much access inmates have aren’t the same thing. ‘I worked at the jail library briefly, and I know they just throw stuff on a cart and everyone [clamors for] it…it’s kind of sad,’ says [Carla McLean, a librarian and volunteer for Books to Prisoners]. ‘Their access to the library is very limited; both of my pen pals have complained about that. One can get access to the wood shop, or he can try to run with 30 or 50 people to the library for a half an hour. So he usually forgoes it because he hates [literally sprinting to the library] and doing that. So he just stays in the wood shop.'”
The story helped fulfill my constant search for nifty little mystery plot twists with this:
“Theoretically, the concept of approved vendors is to provide offenders with their books in a more timely fashion. ‘This is good for the offenders,’ says [Klemme], adding that books no longer have to go through the second step of the package room, where items were catalogued before being distributed.”
Two possible twists there for a mystery novel or screenplay:
1. Someone who wants to ship contraband to a prisoner gets a job at one of the approved vendors (which can be small businesses) and inserts the items in a hollowed-out “new” book that will now bypass the package room.
2. Some whacked-out employee of an approved vendor, hearing about this policy, puts a gun into a prison shipment just to see what might happen.
If any authors out there use said twists, I expect a thank you in the acknowledgements and a signed copy of the published work…