Governor Cuomo’s announcement that he is directing the New York Department of Corrections to rescind Directive 4911A is welcome news not only for incarcerated individuals in New York State and their families, but for all those who are concerned about the right to read, PEN America said today. 

On January 12, New York Governor Cuomo announced via Twitter that he was “directing the Dept. of Corrections to rescind its flawed pilot program that restricted shipment of books & care packages to inmates.” Cuomo continued by stating that “Concerns from families need to be addressed, while we redouble efforts to fight prison contraband.”

Directive 4911A, a pilot program implemented in December 2017 within three New York State correctional institutions, severely restricts inmates’ ability to receive packages by mail, including books, by allowing for inmates to receive packages only from a small list of pre-approved vendors. As a result, Directive 4911A makes it impossible for inmates to directly receive books from other sources—such as family members or NGOs. PEN America has described the Directive as a “ruinously over-broad restriction on inmates’ ability to access published materials” demonstrating “a troubling disregard for inmates’ right to read.”

“We welcome Governor Cuomo’s announcement, and his recognition that Directive 4911A is bad policy,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “We hope that Governor Cuomo, as well as officials within the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, will take this moment to evaluate how New York can design and implement policies intended to expand, rather than restrict, inmates’ access to publications. Upholding inmates’ right to read should be at the center of any prison policy around literature and other written materials.”

PEN America has run a national prison writing program for over 40 years, including an annual Prison Writing Contest available to anyone incarcerated in a federal, state, or county prison. Under Directive 4911A, PEN America would be barred from directly sending inmates copies of its Handbook for Writers in Prison, its detailed guide to writing designed specifically for incarcerated writers. 

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT
Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org, +1.646.981.0685