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Connecticut Prison Inmates Reading True Crime And Other Violent Books

PAT EATON-ROBB   10/ 3/10 02:08 PM ET   AP

Prison

HARTFORD, Conn. — Inmates in Connecticut prisons have 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, according to a review of the prison library system by The Associated Press.

"In Cold Blood," about a 1959 killing in Kansas, is available in at least two Connecticut prisons, including one where a man on trial for a similar 2007 home invasion in Cheshire had served time. Prisons spokesman Brian Garnett said talking about book policies would violate a gag order in the case.

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, for which deliberations begin Monday.

Other books available in the prison system include Ann Rule's "If You Really Loved Me," about the real-life manipulation of a 14-year-old into murdering her mother, and "Along Came a Spider," a novel about a psychopath who kidnaps and kills children of prominent people. The AP obtained lists of prison library holdings under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, whose district includes six state prisons, said he will ask that "In Cold Blood" and other true crime or graphically violent books be removed from prison libraries.

"There are so many books in the world, and I don't think inmates need to be reading about murder, whether it's fiction or nonfiction," he said. "One would hate to think that Mr. Hayes read this book for hours and hours and hours and thought about it for days and days and days and hatched his plan for what took place in Cheshire."

If the department does not remove the books, he said, he will introduce legislation to force them.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said it would oppose any such ban.

"This is yet another case of politicians scapegoating expression as the cause of serious violent crime," said ACLU attorney David McGuire.

The department's published policies and directives, which outline everything from when an inmate can see a dentist to the step-by-step procedure for carrying out capital punishment, are vague when it comes to libraries. They simply require prisons with libraries to record their inventory.

But not all prisons have libraries, and not all libraries keep track of what books they have, according to Joan Ellis, administrator of the system's freedom of information office. System spokesman Garnett would not discuss the lists, how the libraries determine what books inmates can read or whether there any content restrictions.

The state does have a prison media review panel that can bar publications sent directly to inmates for being sexually explicit, describing the construction of weapons, or encouraging criminal activity. Libraries are not specifically mentioned.

In July, the panel approved books including "The Night Stalker" by Philip Carlo, which describes the crimes of serial killer Richard Ramirez.

It rejected 14 books, 10 because of sexual content and four that were identified as posing a risk to safety and security. Those included a book on codes and ciphers, a book about street gangs, a sportsmen's encyclopedia and book about a counterfeiter.

A book should not be removed from prisons just because it includes sex or violence, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's intellectual freedom office.

"No one has ever stated that reading violent materials causes anybody to commit a crime," she said. "Somebody that is moved to commit a crime has much more going on in their lives than simply having read a few comic books or a novel or 'In Cold Blood.'"

"In Cold Blood" was found on two of four library lists the AP reviewed. It was one of more than 5,000 books at the low-security Willard-Cybulski prison in Enfield and among more than 17,000 books in the library at Osborn, which houses higher-security inmates.

It describes the true story of two parolees who broke into a respected Kansas family's home and, finding no money, killed the parents and two of their children.

In the Cheshire case, prosecutors allege that Hayes and career criminal Joshua Komisarjevsky targeted the home of prominent doctor William Petit. They are accused of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. Michaela and her mother were raped; prosecutors say that Hawke-Petit was strangled and that the girls died in a fire set by the two men.

William Petit was badly beaten but escaped and testified in Hayes' trial. Komisarjevsky awaits trial.

Several high-profile crimes across the country have been linked to books. In 1996, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed two students and a teacher at a school in Moses Lake, Wash. Prosecutors said he got the idea after reading "Rage," written by Stephen King under a pseudonym.

Lawyers said 1980s California serial killer Leonard Lake was inspired by the John Fowels novel "The Collector," about a butterfly collector who kidnaps women and keeps them in a remote cell.

Policies for operating prison libraries vary widely from state to state, and sometimes from prison to prison, the Library Association said.

Stone said the group has had to fight to keep religious texts in some prisons, while other institution allow almost any book that can be found in a public library.

Federal prisons are required to have libraries that include "a variety of reading materials," including fiction and nonfiction. The Bureau of Prisons' written policy also does not address violent content.

The Library Association has put together a "Bill of Rights" for prison libraries that 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."

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Filed by Amy Hertz  |