Book Ban in Pennsylvania Prisons Sheds Light on Much Larger Issue

An article published by The Inquirer, a daily newspaper in Philadelphia, on September 21st, 2018 informs readers of recent events that have taken place within the local prison system. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), in an effort to eliminate dug smuggling into the prisons, placed a prohibition on books being brought in for inmates. The DOC found that inmates were using books to smuggle Suboxone into prisons. Suboxone is an evidence-based treatment used for individuals with opioid use disorder which satisfies a physical craving for opioids with out feeling of euphoria associated wth recreational drug use. The fact that prisoners are going to such extreme measures to get their hands on it demonstrates a huge problem within the system.

The ban on books in Pennsylvania prisons is described by the author, Abraham Gutman, as an not only an “attack on the humanity of people in prison” but an attempt to address the wrong issue. The problem isn’t that people are smuggling Suboxone into prisons, its why they feel the need to do so. Employees at the Pennsylvania DOC have stated that of 65 percent of people in state prisons need some sort of substance abuse treatment and that, with the exception of pregnant women, not one of those individuals receive evidence-based treatments. 

The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a law suit against the Pennsylvania DOC on the basis that denying inmates treatment for opioid use disorder, which forces many of the who are already receive treatment into painful withdrawal, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is a violation of citizens eighth amendment rights. This problem is not unique to the state of Pennsylvania as lawsuits of the same nature have also been filed in Maine and Washington State.

Not only are prisoners who already receive treatment being denied their current treatments but there are not currently any initiatives to get prisoners into treatments. Treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder are known to reduce relapse rates. Actively choosing to not treat them and forcing them into withdrawal increases the likelihood that they will go back to using and return to prisons which goes against the goals of the DOC. 

The DOC should want to set individuals up for success, to diminish black-market drug activity, and keep people out of prisons, yet their actions go against these ideas. The Author of this article suggests, and many Pennsylvanians agree, that the goals of the DOC should not be directed towards punishing the inmates further, by banning books and denying medications, but rather towards offering treatment which puts inmates in a position that makes long term recovery a possibility.