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Charitable Gifts From Behind Bars?

The lighter (heavier?) side of the law.

Over a quarter century ago, I received this letter from the librarian at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma.

Federal Bureau of Prisons  
El Reno, OK 73036
Federal Correctional Institutions  
Brenda Bradley, Librarian

November 12, 1990

Taxwise Giving
13 Arcadia Road
Old Greenwich, CT 06870


Dear Sir or Madam:

Our law library here at the Federal Correctional Institution is in desperate need of assistance. We operate on a small quarterly budget of $1500.00 and this allows us to buy only those law books mandated by the courts. However, there are many areas of the law that inmates need access to. For example, we have inmates who are going through divorces, fighting to keep visitation rights to their children and/or trying to convince the courts not to allow adoption proceedings. There are many areas of the law for which we do not have reference books and for this reason I am seeking your assistance.

I am specifically asking your company to donate one copy of each of the following titles:

Charitable Lead Trusts: Explanation, Specimen Agreements, Forms

Outright Charitable Gifts: Explanation, Substantiating, Forms

These books will be available for use by the inmates, but will remain in the law library and will not be sold or exchanged. All donations will be acknowledged on official prison stationary (sic) for IRS purposes. Please include an invoice reflecting current retail prices.

Enclosed you will find two government mailing labels that will allow you to ship your donation free of charge. Should you need more labels or have any questions about our programs, please call me at (405) 262-4875 ext. 268, between the hours of 1-5 p.m., Monday thru Thursday.

Thank you for considering us,


Brenda Bradley, Librarian


My response:


December 20, 1990

Dear Ms. Bradley:

This is in response to your letter (copy enclosed) asking for a donation of one copy of each of the following titles: Charitable Lead Trusts — Explanation, Specimen Agreements, Forms; and Outright Charitable Gifts — Explanation, Substantiating, Forms.

Although I am flattered that you believe my books to be helpful, I wonder whether inmates in a federal penitentiary would need books explaining the tax implications of charitable contributions. Would you be using the volumes in one of the so-called white collar correctional institutions?

Your letter states: "All donations will be acknowledged on official prison stationary for IRS purposes. Please include an invoice reflecting current retail prices."

The Internal Revenue Code limits the charitable deduction for gifts of inventory (e.g., textbooks by a publisher) to the property's cost basis (not the retail price). IRC Sec. 170(e)(1)(A); Reg. Sec. 1.170A-4(a)(1).

A special rule allows corporations meeting certain tests to get enhanced deductions for gifts of inventory — used by a charity for the ill, needy or minors — for the property’s basis, plus half of the appreciation or twice the property’s basis, whichever is lower. IRC Sec. 170(e)(3); Reg. Sec. 1.170-A-4A.

Your letter suggesting that the donor include an invoice reflecting current retail prices could mislead some donors into claiming larger charitable deductions than the law allows. I know that you wouldn't want your donors ending up in your correctional institutions.

Enclosed is a copy of my booklet, "A Matter of Life and Death — a common sense guide to living wills and health care decisions." Perhaps that booklet would be useful to your inmates. I'd be happy to donate multiple copies of that booklet and wouldn't plan on claiming a charitable deduction.

Also, I'd be happy to donate the volumes that you requested if on reflection you believe they will serve a purpose in your library.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Conrad Teitell


Not receiving an answer, I wrote the same letter to the librarian on every April 15 for several years. I finally gave up on getting an answer — as the cliché goes. You can’t make this stuff up.

One more thing: note the librarian wrote “official prison stationary.” I guess the third word in the quotation is spelled that way because the prisoners weren’t going anywhere.

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