PHOENIX — The new head of the state Department of Corrections is a career employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons where last year he instituted a policy that restricted access to books by inmates.
On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey tapped David Shinn to take over the $1 billion a year system which has a staff of 8,500 that houses nearly 34,000 inmates and oversees another 8,200 in private prisons.
Shinn is currently the assistant director of the Program Review Division for the federal Bureau of Prisons.
His official biography for that agency said he oversees a wide variety of areas, including guiding managers in the assessment of operations, assisting management in the strategic planning process, and coordinating and monitoring oversight activities of auditors. In that last role, according to the governor’s office, he oversaw more than 575 audits annually.
But it was his position before that, as complex warden at the federal prison at Victorville, Calif., that generated some protest and publicity.
Last year, in that position, Shinn implemented a policy that prohibited inmates from obtaining books from a publisher, bookstore, book club, friends or family through the mail. The order said it was done to “increase the safety and security of staff and inmates.’’
Instead, inmates were told they would have to submit an electronic request, specifying not the just book title, author and edition but the unique International Standard Book number. The staff then would respond with a book price -- retail plus a 30 percent markup, plus shipping.
Mailings were restricted to no more than five soft-cover books, with that number being the absolute maximum any inmate could possess “to prevent the materials from becoming sanitation, security and/or a housekeeping hazard.’’
Shinn, in the memo, said this was in response to “multiple occurrences involving illicit drugs.’’
The change drew immediate fire.
“This policy is a discriminatory and destructive attack on access to literature and other reading and educational materials for thousands of people in prison, shutting them off from works that can reduce recidivism and better connect them to the outside world,’’ said Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs for PEN America, a charitable organization which includes writers, editors, publishers and other writing professionals.
In the press release last year after the policy was implemented, Lopez said it forces inmates “to pay potentially exorbitant prices for books they could receive for free from friends, family or charities.’’ And she said that effectively makes it impossible for some inmates to access books not available in prison libraries. Lopez said that the policy, implemented at Victorville and one other federal prison in California, was rescinded after public pressure from her organization and others.