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Should Prisoners Get To Read Violent Books?

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A Jail Cell - File / Photo: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

A jail cell (file/credit: Getty Images)

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HARTFORD, CT (AP / WCBS 880) - The state Department of Correction is revising its library policy in the wake of an Associated Press investigation that found inmates had unrestricted access to works depicting graphic violence, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

LISTEN: WCBS 880 CT Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reports

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he met with Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone for an hour Friday after learning that books such as Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” a literary classic about a 1959 killing in Kansas, were among the department’s library holdings.

“When I mentioned ‘In Cold Blood’ to him, he said it was a disgusting book,” Kissel said. “I think he’s aware of my concerns and he shares them.”

Kissel, whose district includes six state prisons housing more than 8,000 inmates, had called for the removal of all books containing violent content from prison library shelves. He said Arnone has agreed to craft a detailed library policy after reviewing how the issue is handled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The senator said he was told the department wants to address safety concerns while also guarding against potential lawsuits from prisoners.

“My view is that what is good for Leavenworth is good for the state of Connecticut,” Kissel said, referring to the maximum-security federal prison in Kansas that is one of the nation’s largest.

The federal Bureau of Prison’s published policy on prison libraries does not address content. It requires libraries to offer inmates “a variety of reading materials, including, but not limited to periodicals, newspapers, fiction, nonfiction, and reference books.”

Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett confirmed Wednesday that the department is reviewing the federal policy as well as the policies of other states to “determine what the standard is,” he said. He would not say what the department plans to do after that review.

An AP review of library holdings at four state prisons found dozens of graphically violent books. “In Cold Blood,” a best-seller that is still widely taught in schools and read, was available at two of those, including one where a man convicted Tuesday for a similar 2007 home invasion in Cheshire had served time.

Steven Hayes - File / Photo: Connecticut State Police via AP

Steven Hayes - File / Photo: Connecticut State Police via AP

Before the trial began, lawyers for Steven Hayes, who was incarcerated at 17 prisons before the Cheshire crime, filed a motion asking a judge to bar as evidence the names of several books that Hayes read behind bars. The judge never ruled because prosecutors said they would not raise the issue during his trial.

Garnett has refused to say which books Hayes may have read in prison and will not discuss the current prison library policy, citing a gag order issued by the trial judge.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has said it would oppose any ban on books in Connecticut libraries.

The American Library Association has put together a “Bill of Rights” for prison libraries, which it says should help inmates with self-improvement, education and entertainment.

“Even those individuals that a lawful society chooses to imprison permanently,” it states, “deserve access to information, to literature, and to a window on the world.”

Kissel said he expects it will take about a month to craft a new state policy.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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