Cuomo Halts a Controversial Prison Package Policy

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Cuomo Halts a Controversial Prison Package Policy
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the New York State corrections department to suspend a pilot program Friday that had begun just 10 days ago and restricted packages for inmates in state prisons. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

The New York State corrections department on Friday suspended a program restricting packages for inmates in state prisons, just 10 days after its launch triggered significant backlash from families and criminal justice reform advocates.

Earlier in the week officials had defended the policy — which required all packages to be ordered through a handful of state-approved vendors, and which banned goods like used books and fresh fruit and vegetables — as a necessary security measure in the face of increasing prison contraband.

But after outcry that included a postcard-writing campaign, social media denunciations and letters from local and national lawmakers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed the department to halt the program.

“Concerns have been raised by families of inmates regarding the availability and price of products under this program, concerns we do not take lightly,” Thomas Mailey, a department spokesman, said in a statement, adding that the pilot program, which was introduced in three prisons, would be suspended until the concerns were addressed.

“In the meantime, we will redouble our efforts on the other parts of our multifaceted plan to eliminate contraband and increase safety in our prison system.”

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Advocates had worried the program would force the inmates’ families, many of whom are of limited means, to choose between visiting their loved ones and sending care packages. They pointed out that several of the vendors’ catalogs advertised inflated prices for popular goods such as Oreo cookies or plain T-shirts, which many family members had previously bought in bulk or at local stores.

The ban on used books drew special ire, especially from groups that donated reading material to inmates in hopes of easing their re-entry into society.

Advocates praised the decision but said they hoped to see the program abandoned completely.

“I don’t know if this is going to be a permanent end to this idea, or if we’ll see it reincarnated in different form in the not-too-distant future,” Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of Alliance of Families for Justice, said.

The group had helped organize a postcard-writing campaign to Mr. Cuomo and the corrections department’s acting commissioner, Anthony J. Annucci, asking them to reconsider the policy.

“For now, we will cautiously celebrate, but be ever vigilant and watchful as to what else might come,” Ms. Elijah said.

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