'Pumping pulp' is banned by Texas prisons

January 15, 1995|By San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO -- Some convicts' inexplicable interest in weighty legal matters has led Texas prison officials to restrict their library privileges.

Denied access to exercise equipment for disciplinary reasons, the inmates checked law books out of the prison library, bound them together, and used them for weight-lifting in their cells, officials said.

But "pumping pulp" has come to an end.

"We're not going to tolerate it," said Andy Collins, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Some books used as weights have been damaged or destroyed, Mr. Collins said.

The department's nine-member board is expected to adopt a policy to keep law books out of the hands of the weight lifters.

Mr. Collins said inmates in administrative segregation because of behavioral problems have used books as weights for years, but only in isolated instances.

Over the past few months, the practice has become more widespread, he said.

Because the state prison system is required to give all inmates access to law books and related materials, Mr. Collins said, the proposed policy calls for staff members to provide photocopies of book sections specified by the prisoners.

He predicted photocopying expenses will be far less costly than replacing the destroyed books.

Jay Jacobson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the proposed policy will be reviewed, but he wasn't certain it will be challenged.

"As a practical matter, it may limit the ability to research . . . [Copying] is a very burdensome process I would think," Mr. Jacobson said.

Though Mr. Collins couldn't provide figures on the number of books destroyed, he said law library collections usually cost between $60,000 and $70,000, and each library spends several thousand dollars a year to update books.

Mr. Collins estimated an average law book weighs about 5 pounds.

In a letter to board members meeting in Lubbock this week, Carl Reynolds, general counsel for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, wrote:

"The inmates will strap several books together, which has the costly side effect of destroying their bindings."

Department spokesman Larry Todd added: "Some of the inmates were throwing them in the air and playing catch with them."

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