OLYMPIA – Washington’s top corrections official vowed Friday to make sure prisoners can receive used books.

The remarks by state Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Stephen Sinclair come after an outcry this week about a decision to ban offenders from receiving used books through the mail, over concern about contraband entering the prisons.

That prohibition would leave correctional facilities relying only on the Washington State Library, which supplies reading materials to prison libraries. That program, overseen by the Secretary of State’s Office, doesn’t have any anticipated budget increases or a plan to fill a void in reading materials.

“We are going to ensure that we have processes in place that allow people” to get books, Sinclair said in an interview. “They won’t all go through the Washington State Library, as they don’t have the resources.”

Details haven’t yet been determined, Sinclair said, but “we’ll work that out.”

The agency has scheduled a meeting for next week with the Seattle nonprofit group Books To Prisoners to discuss the issue, he said.


For decades, Books To Prisoners has received requests from offenders for books. Volunteers then find appropriate donated books to match those requests, and send them to the prisoners.

A DOC news release on Wednesday said that in 17 instances last year, contraband items entered prisons through books. Sinclair said he didn’t have details on those instances, but he has ordered a review and hopes to know more soon.

Books To Prisoners board member and volunteer Michelle Dillon has said books sent by their group to Washington’s prisons have been getting rejected recently, but she didn’t know why.

She then discovered an operational memo on DOC’s website declaring that used books from nonprofit groups would no longer be accepted starting March 25.

The memo stated that because of a rise in contraband, the agency didn’t have resources to keep reviewing books entering its mailrooms.