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Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is one of the prisons where a pilot program requiring families to send care packages through private companies was temporarily installed and then suspended.
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New York Cancels Private Prison Care Packages Program

An uproar over cost, selection — and coloring books.

New York corrections officials said Friday they have suspended a program that forced families and friends to send care packages to prisoners only through select private vendors, amid an uproar that the move raised costs and limited choices.

The switch to private companies had gone into effect earlier this month in a pilot program at three facilities: Greene, Taconic and Green Haven Correctional Facilities. The state planned to expand privatization to the whole system — the fourth largest in the nation — by the fall.

“Concerns have been raised by families of inmates regarding the availability and prices of products under this program, concerns we do not take lightly,” Thomas Mailey, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said in a press release.

The program has been suspended until those concerns can be addressed, Mailey said.

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Under the plan, New York had been poised to enter the big business of prisoner care packages, joining the ranks of the hundreds of other local and state corrections agencies using private companies for the service. Instead of heading to a local convenience or grocery store to find gifts, family and friends have to choose from a selection of pre-approved items in the companies’ catalogs. Corrections departments say it reduces the risk of contraband.

In New York, the decision would have severely limited, among other things, the books prisoners could receive from the outside. One count found that the five vendors combined offered only 77 books, 24 of which were coloring books.

Advocates cheered the decision, saying the change erected an unnecessary barrier in maintaining relationships with incarcerated loved ones.

“New York State has led the country in may ways in fighting recidivism and reforming the criminal justice system,” said Caroline Hsu, a staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. “I would hate to see us take a step back.”