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Proposal to alter inmate access to law libraries could affect Jefferson County

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A proposed amendment to the New York state Correction Law could have a significant effect on Jefferson County’s jail law library.

The proposal, which appeared in last week’s state register, would eliminate the requirement that law libraries be maintained within local correctional facilities.

The amendment aims to take advantage of changing technology to reduce the counties’ library maintenance costs, which can be substantial.

According to the state Commission of Correction, only one company still publishes a New York state case law digest, and the cost of this volume makes up a significant portion of the expense of maintaining a library.

If resources instead were made available through electronic databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, that would satisfy the intention of the original requirement, according to the amendment.

Inmates still would be able to request materials from the State Supreme Court library, which is in the Jefferson County Court Complex, by choosing from a list provided to them at the jail.

Additionally, the amendment proposes that the county no longer be required to provide typewriters as long as inmates have access to black-ink pens and paper.

The proposal has been an ongoing discussion for years, according to Lt. Kristopher M. Spencer, jail administrator at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building.

Law libraries are a huge financial drain on the jail’s budget, Mr. Spencer said.

The amendment also would allow the county to pay for the library with profits from the inmate commissary. Using commissary funds would allow the jail to purchase new computers, which the facility hasn’t had for quite a few years, though “the wires are still there,” Mr. Spencer said.

Along with the computers would come access to the electronic databases.

No matter what happens with the law library, Mr. Spencer said that the recreational library, which is stocked entirely with donations, would not be affected by the proposed changes.

While there is no jail librarian like the Andy Dufresne character in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the jail does have inmate workers who bring books to different pods, Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns said.

The library is a popular and positive resource for inmates, Mr. Burns said.

“As long as we can keep the inmates busy doing something, then we have less problems,” he said.

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