Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Speed Reading on Death Row

In the future inmates in Texas prisons can read about Jackie Robinson, even if the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wouldn't let Kenneth Foster.

I just got off the phone with TDCJ public information officer Jason Clark who assured me that the refusal of the book on sports history to death row inmate Kenneth Foster that I wrote about yesterday was an accident, that it should have been approved.

Clark said the book was flagged in the mailroom because of racial content (historical passages about baseball great Jackie Robinson and boxer Jack Johnson), but that supervisors should have approved it under current policies. They didn't (no one knows why), so a denial letter went out citing the passages flagged by the mailroom.

He added that after the book's author wrote about the episode in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a notification/correction was sent to both the publisher and the inmate to let them know it was okay if the author wanted to re-send the book.

That's cutting it pretty close, isn't it? Kenneth Foster is scheduled to be executed nine days from now on August 30, so if they're going to get him that book they'd better hurry. :-/

Clark and I talked through what information TDCJ keeps on rejected books, and I think I'll go ahead and file an open records request for the data tomorrow. After this episode, I want to see for myself the complete list of books TDCJ is rejecting and their policies.


Anonymous said...

"Racial content"?
Bill Bush

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yup. He said that the policy was changed not long ago, that previously all references that might promote racial conflict were banned, particularly those focusing on civil rights, etc.. That's not supposed to be the case now, he said, but apparently word hasn't filtered down to the mailroom.

I'm going to ask for the policy as well as the book list and we'll see what's what.

Anonymous said...

Scott, if you do get a complete list of banned books from TDCJ, can you make it available as an excel or pdf file please? It would be so helpful ~ I send hubby lots of books and it is a real pain to have to call the unit every time it might be a 'difficult' subject.

Anonymous said...

Scott, if you do get that list will you be putting it on you blog? I'm sure we would all love to read the list and the reasons why certain books are being denied in TDCJ.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Of course I'll post the list. Unfortunately I think instead of a list they're going to give me a big stack of paper, one per denial, so it'll take a little work, but I'll compile it - that's why I'm asking for it. best,

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For the record, here's what I asked for:

Dear Jason,

This is a request under the Public Information Act. I'd like to receive copies of the following documents, if available, as per our conversation yesterday:

1. A master list of books denied to inmates.
2. A copy of the current policy regarding what books inmates may receive.
3. A copy of the TDCJ policy on what books inmates could receive BEFORE the most recent revisions - i.e., the old policy you told me about before the changes regarding racial content.
4. Copies of all denial letters regarding books sent to inmates from the period Aug. 1, 2005 through Aug. 21, 2007.
5. A list of all the database fields for the TDCJ database where information about denied books is kept.
6. Any manual or documentation regarding the database mentioned in #5 that defines each field or gives policies regarding the database.

spearshaker said...

Scott: TYC has fallen too far down in the blog. Please, at some comment about the legislative committee having a public hearing on Aug 29. We cannot afford to fall out of the public eye.

Anonymous said...

Scott, good move. I recommend that TDCJ publish the list on their website and keep it up to date. That way their staff and the public could avoid confusion.

Consistent enforcement of rules like this is definately needed.

Anonymous said...

"Copies of all denial letters regarding books sent to inmates from the period Aug. 1, 2005 through Aug. 21, 2007."

You'll keep them busy on that one. What? A hundred or so facilities. Get ready to shell out the moolah for employee time spent on this one.

Anonymous said...

I've sent books that just seem to go missing. After several phone calls, and some miracle, they are found and delivered.

There may not be that much paperwork after all.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually I told them I only needed that 4th item if they didn't have a master list. I'm getting the runaround on whether the information is accessible electronically or not. I'd asked them to just give me the list and got a "can't get there from here" type response, so I decided to just ask for everything. If they don't have a list, I'll compile it myself. If it costs too dear, maybe I'll ask readers to help me pay for it. best,

Anonymous said...

"The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene was denied my son, with reason "the entire book could create security concerns.." My son commented that "apparently TDCJ doesn't allow books on psychology because they're worried that I might be able to brainwash a guard into handing me the keys to this joint." They then denied a William W. Johnstone paperback (cowboy/wild west storyteller) due to "racial content"....HUH? I guess I'll stick to "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" :(

Anonymous said...

I just sent my husband some William Johnstone books. I think it has to do with what unit the offender is at. Or it might have to do with what color the mailroom people are. Or it might be the wind is blowing the wrong way. Who knows???? TDCJ can't get their rules right at any unit. One unit you can wear sandals, another unit you can't. You have to call to find out, what you can wear or can't wear. They probably thought the western book was like the Movie "Broke back mountain". We need a list that is updated so we ain't spending the money just to have the books "Destroyed" if the offender doesn't have the money to send them back. You have to call and make sure they got them and that the offender received them, if not you run the risk of some guard or mailroom person either reading it or taking it home and the offender is told "I don't know what happened to it, I guess the mail lost it" I have had that happen to mine until I got the tracking from UPS and the book magicaly appeared. Go figure that one out.