Video: State Prison Package Ban Burdens Families of Incarcerated New Yorkers

Last May, New York State rolled out a policy preventing families from sending packages to incarcerated loved ones except through external private vendors. The policy was put in place to prevent prohibited materials from entering prisons; however, it has resulted in families no longer having the autonomy to choose to buy from vendors who they might find more affordable in their financial situation.

This video follows Verdina Edwards Bristol, a Bronx resident whose husband, Devon Bristol, has been incarcerated for 11 years. At the time of filming, Devon was serving his sentence in Wende Correctional Facility in Erie County, New York. Verdina has had to compromise on personal bills to send her husband food, underwear, and shoes, among other items. When she does spend money to send a costly package, she sometimes includes perishable items like lettuce, asparagus and other vegetables. There are times when the items are not delivered to her husband before perishable items spoil. Some of the non-perishable items she has sent, including underwear and shoes, have been returned for lack of compliance with facility regulations, despite being packaged by private vendors, some of whom exclusively serve correctional facilities and supposedly understand package restrictions better than families.

This is not the first time New York has imposed a restriction on packages sent to incarcerated people. A similar directive was issued under former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2018. Educator and activist Wilfredo Laracuente was incarcerated at the time and talks about state-provided meals and hygiene services when family-delivered packages were banned.

The 2018 ban was lifted after advocates put pressure by rallying against the policy and sending postcards to the governor’s office explaining the difficulties faced by the incarcerated and their loved ones. They are doing the same now.

About the author(s)

Sanjana Bhambhani is a journalist hailing from New Delhi, India who is presently pursuing a Master of Science at the Columbia Journalism School.