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Conn. prison agency reviewing policy on library books

By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / March 22, 2011

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HARTFORD — The commissioner of the Department of Correction told lawmakers yesterday that his agency has begun reviewing the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policies for library collections and is expected to have new rules for Connecticut’s prison libraries around July 1.

Leo Arnone appeared before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which is considering a bill that would require such a review. Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield who proposed the legislation, is particularly concerned about graphic, violent books one of the defendants in a 2007 fatal home invasion may have read while in prison.

Arnone said new committees, to be created in individual prisons, will ultimately come up with policies for approving books in their respective library collections. He expects those policies will be ready around July 1. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also has local committees handle library collection policies at each federal institution with a library, he said.

“The new system will really put some standard operating procedures behind what we do now,’’ he said.

Most of the books in Connecticut’s prison libraries have been donated. Before this review, Arnone said, a librarian or school teacher who worked part-time in a prison would be the one to decide which books were suitable for the collection. At times, he said, that person could be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books to review, sometimes receiving 400 donated books in one day.

Kissel, who acknowledged that his legislation may no longer be necessary, given the Correction Department’s plans, asked Arnone to go back and review the books already in prison library collections.

Lawyers for Joshua Komisarjevsky, who faces trial in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion that left a mother and her two daughters dead, recently filed court papers saying that before the crime, his codefendant, Steven Hayes, read books in prison depicting violent murders and burning of victims. They said many of the 24 books Hayes checked out from prison in the year before the Cheshire home invasion were violent and included details about strangulation, rape, and arson.

Hayes was convicted in December and sentenced to death.

“To be honest, some of it is pretty scary, as far as it being very similar to what took place at Cheshire,’’ Kissel said. “God only knows what the connections may or may not be. There’s millions of books. Part of me wonders why those books happen to be in those facilities.’’

When asked by Kissel if those types of books would be reviewed first, Arnone said he could not answer the question because of a judge’s gag order in the case.

An October 2010 review of the prison library system by the Associated Press found that inmates in state prisons had access to true crime books and works of fiction that depict murder and graphic violence, with no apparent restrictions based on a reader’s criminal history.