This restoration comes after public pressure from advocates, who wrote letters and made calls pressuring the jail to restore the physical book policy.
Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Abolitionist Law Center, and PA Institutional Law Project today sent a press release containing a copy of a letter to Harper, dated yesterday, Dec. 1, criticizing the policy to ban inmates from ordering physical books, claiming that it violated the First Amendment. Many advocates and the ACLU of PA were planning to speak at the county’s Jail Oversight Board meeting tonight.
“This restriction violates the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, is arbitrary and irrational, and reflects stunningly poor policy choices,” reads the letter, which you can read here in full: "Letter to Allegheny County Jail Regarding Banned Books"
Harper says in a press release that the decision to stop ordering books on Nov. 16 was “due to an ongoing investigation regarding safety and security concerns over contraband.” He adds that additional staff training has been completed related to the testing of printed materials to allow the program to resume. Approximately 30 to 60 books are sent to inmates in the jail in this manner each month.
The jail is still also accepting book donations for its onsite library through Dec. 28. And Harper says the jail committed $10,000 to purchase services through Overdrive, an eBook provider.
According to a press release, those interested in donating can contact Hope Chaplaincy Services at email@example.com or 412-350-2057.
In addition to restoring the physical-book ordering policy, the Allegheny County Jail announced a new partnership with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The partnership will grant access for inmates to CLP’s eBook and physical book collection.
There are also ongoing discussions for the restoration of CLP services that were ended during the pandemic, like monthly visits to the jail’s Family Center for read-alouds and family engagement, work readiness programming, movie and book discussions, and aid for their physical book collection.
“We are grateful to the staff at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for their continued and ongoing support of literacy at the Allegheny County Jail,” said Warden Orlando Harper. “They have been an important partner to us in providing services to the individuals who are incarcerated here as well as a trusted voice as we work through how best to provide more access to a variety of mediums in the facility.”
The Allegheny County Jail has also been in the news this week for a lawsuit filed today by three formerly incarcerated women with disabilities alleging they were assaulted by a corrections officer. In September, a lawsuit was filed against the jail for having "dehumanizing conditions."