By Clark Gerhartsreiter Contributing Writer
One of the last states to allow the public to send care packages directly to incarcerated persons — or deliver them during visits — has decided to phase out the practice. Home-cooked meals or grandma’s cookies may no longer enter the prison, wrote Maysoon Khan, a corps member of The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.
Citing fears about contraband, New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision succeeded in its second attempt to institute the new policy. In 2018, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly rescinded a policy that allowed sending packages only through six pre-approved online vendors.
Caroline Hansen, who for 10 years hand-delivered packages to her incarcerated husband, said, “When I first started bringing him packages, he said he loved avocados. He hadn’t eaten them in about 20 years.” Her husband also likes bananas and she said that the prison cafeteria served bananas once a month, at most. “I take for granted having a banana with my yogurt,” she added.
The Aug. 14 article also quoted Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative calling prison meals a “nutritional nightmare.” She also said that some incarcerated persons rely on care packages to keep a healthy diet. Formerly incarcerated person Wilfred Larac-uente said the new policy removes “the human component that’s very vital and necessary for the reentry process.” The article said the new policy would shift the sending of care packages entirely to third-party specialty vendors like Walkenhorst’s and Jack L. Marcus Company. Prisoner advocates call the new policy too restrictive and an added financial burden as the items sold by third-party vendors can cost a lot more.
Hansen and Laracuente also cited cost as a major drawback of the new policy. A 35-pound package, ordered from a third-party vendor and containing cakes, cookies, chips, soaps, shampoo, and some toiletries, cost Laracuente $230. Han-sen called third-party vendor prices “ridiculous.”
New York Assemblymember David Weprin, the chair of the Committee on Correction, criticized the new policy, according to the article. More than 60 families of incarcerated persons have sent grievance letters to Weprin.
The New York prison system also began testing a program that delivers all letters sent to incarcerated persons as computer-scanned copies. This program means to stop the trend of sending letters soaked in drugs. The article said that Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and the federal Bureau of Prisons already use the practice, as does New Mexico.