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Last year, the California Department of Corrections made a determined effort to purchase used law books for the constitutionally-required prison law libraries at the new High Desert State Prison at Susanville.

“We saw the potential merit, both economically and philosophically, of stocking an entire prison library with used or ‘recycled’ law books,” said Dave Tristan, head of the department’s Institutions Division. “Unfortunately the vendor did not live up to its commitments,” said Tristan.

Although the vendor, National Law Resource, Inc., guaranteed every book in excellent condition, those that arrived contained:

Contraband material–paper clips, staples and other items that could be fashioned into weapons.

Extraneous papers including personal information–one book contained an entire will with the names and addresses of private citizens.

Serious defects in the books, include:

  • incomplete sets
  • books too worn to withstand heavy inmate use
  • loose, torn, or missing covers and pages
  • broken bindings and significant stains

Corrections returned the first shipment to the vendor. A second shipment, which arrived just days before the prison was to open, included the same serious problems.

“I was forced to redirect library staff from throughout the department to examine the inferior inventory, book by book,” said Tristan. “This added $24,000 to the cost of the library,” Tristan explained. The vendor also failed to itemize its billings, forcing Corrections to spend an additional 70 hours to verify the expenditures.

Based upon this experience, the department has decided to return to its previous policy of purchasing new books when supplying an entire prison library. “This will ensure that we comply with U.S. Supreme Court requirements,” said Tristan. “We will continue to buy used books for replacements whenever possible.”