Banning Books in Prison? You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

Quartz had a story this week about prisons that ban books, looking at the differences from state to state. The story then offered a closer look at the process used by Pennsylvania to decide whether or not to ban a book, and the reasons for such decisions.

I don’t understand why there is a process at all – to me no books should be banned. If someone did somehow abuse his or her book reading privilege, then it seems like it would be much easier, and much more effective way to deal with the problem. Why punish the entire state prison population for the behavior of one or a few individuals.

The story noted that New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would suspend a pilot program that would have severely restricted books in state prisons and left 50,000 inmates in veritable information darkness. The result would have been very few books on topics outside religion and puzzles.

Here were some additional tidbits from other states:

Prisoners in Alabama are banned from being in book clubs. In Michigan and Ohio, prisoners are barred from reading books that teach computer skills. In Michigan, the computer programming manual C++ For Dummies was kept out of a prison in 2012 because it posed a “threat to the order/security of institution.” The same reasoning applied to a book about Egyptian hieroglyphics.

On the list of tens of thousands of books Texas has banned in its prisons are The Essential Gore Vidal and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Last week, following reports that two New Jersey prisons had banned Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the state quickly reversed the prohibition.

I just don’t get any of these restrictions.

I would think books could play a key role in the rehab process of prisoners, so instead of banning them, I think they should have full access to all books.

And why not offer book clubs? Perhaps giving prisoners a chance to share their thoughts with other people could change the dynamics, even just a little, to a more positive one within the prison.

And who knows, as a result of such reading opportunities, people may leave the prison and hit the ground running as programmers, paralegals, or wanting to pursue a college degree.

And aren’t such outcomes what we are looking for from our prisons?


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