La. Inmates Losing Typewriters

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana prison inmates are losing their typewriters, a move that the state's corrections chief says will improve security.

But the wife of the prison inmate who helped expose a pardon-selling scandal says she believes the move is aimed at preventing prisoners from writing the media.

New inmates have been forbidden since March from having typewriters, and prisoners transferring to different institutions have not been allowed to cart their typewriters with them.

Wardens will decide in the coming months when to phase out inmates' typewriters at each state prison, said Richard Stalder, secretary of the Department of Corrections.

``They are one of the No. 1 security risks in an institution as far as hiding contraband goes,'' Stalder said. ``There are all sorts of places in a typewriter to hide things. Typewriter keys can easily be made into shims that can be used as weapons.''

Jody Sinclair, the wife of Billy Sinclair, a former death row inmate who blew the whistle on Louisiana's pardon-selling scandal in the 1980s, said her husband had a typewriter since 1968, when he traded a pack of cigarettes to a death row inmate for an old Underwood portable.

The death sentence of Billy Sinclair, who was convicted in 1965 of killing a convenience store clerk, was later commuted to life.

``The only inmates who are going to be interested in typewriters are those most likely to contact the media, to file lawsuits,'' his wife said last week. ``Personal radios are much more widespread. Are they saying you can't hide something in a Walkman?''

Inmates are still allowed to have small radios.

Federal courts have held that inmates do not have a right to a personal typewriter. Courts do not require typed appeals — just legible documents.

Inmate paralegals, who help other prisoners with their appeals, will still have access to electric typewriters in libraries. Those typewriters also are accessible to any inmate wanting to type court documents, Stalder said.