Prison Mail Policy Changes Keep Incarcerated People From Receiving Mail, Packages


New York State families can no longer mail such packages directly, but they can order ones to send through third-party vendors. Stanley says the items, particularly from vendors who provide prison-specific services, can be marked up, making these packages inaccessible for some inmates’ families

An Associated Press story noted there were issues, even before the new policy, with some families’ packages languishing in an inspection cell for days or weeks, and fresh-food items would spoil. “I know what it’s like to wait for a package with food in it,” Stanley says. “I was grateful to get it, because I was pregnant [in prison] and needed it. We are now creating a financial burden on families to order these products and pay for the shipping.”

Fifty-two-year-old Ethel Edwards, who had been incarcerated in a New York State prison until May, says that some families used their own food stamps to pay for care-package items — something they can no longer do on approved vendors’ websites. “I got out right in time,” she says. “I just looked [to send packages] to a couple of friends, but I can’t afford [it].”

Edwards adds that her family sent her a package every month: coffee, creamer, bread, meat, soaps, shampoo, hair products. These products were either impossible to get at the commissary, too expensive, or low quality. A representative for the New York State DOC says that incarcerated individuals have the option to use free necessities like soap, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products. But at least one source tells Teen Vogue that the complimentary soap that was available during their incarceration was irritating and unusable.

For incarcerated people who want to buy higher-quality soap at the commissary, options are limited. At the Taconic Correctional Facility in New York’s Westchester County, a bar of Dial costs 62 cents; Dove rings in at 86 cents. “A person who works as a porter gets 10 cents an hour. Are you kidding me?” Edwards says. According to the New York DOC representative, the starting pay for a porter role in prison is 10 cents per hour; higher-earning positions can get $2 a day.

The Alliance for Families of Justice is currently campaigning for Governor Kathy Hochul to overturn this package policy. (Representatives for the governor did not respond to a request for comment.) “The recommendation for this initiative was a direct result of the work of the Prison Violence Task Force,” a representative for the DOC says via email. “Input was also solicited from several Incarcerated Individual Liaison Committees, while several advocacy organizations were also consulted on the initiative.”

Kelly Savage-Rodriguez, a 50-year-old woman who spent 23 years in a California prison, says mail call was a treasured time for her. “It was the difference between knowing the next day I could get up and fight a little more, because I had that support,” she remembers. “At the end of the night, when I was having my worst day, when a cop was disrespecting me for no reason or medical wasn’t attending to my needs, I know I could pull [mail] out and it will lift me up in so many ways.”

The same goes for Geoff, who has opted not to use his last name here, a man who’s currently incarcerated in Arizona. “The unit I’m at, [staff] contrabands a lot of different books and magazines,” he says. “Getting a handwritten letter makes me feel loved. I don’t get visits or phone calls, so when I receive a letter, I really feel self-worthiness. It lets me know that even though I broke the law, someone still cares about me, and can see that I am still a person with feelings, hopes, and cares.”

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