Books on shelves

Waking Up to the Reality of Prison Book Policies

In The Washington Post’s “Book Club” newsletter, critic Ron Charles wrote about access to books in prisons. He highlighted work by Prison Legal News, PEN America, the Prison Policy Initiative, and APBP.

Connecting the Dots

What I especially appreciate about Ron’s take is that he shows how policies in different prisons and states lead to the same unspoken destination: to decrease access to books in prisons.

“One of the distressing elements of our country’s grotesque penal industry is its effort to keep prisoners from reading books. The Human Rights Defense Center reports that Kansas has abolished its old banned books list only to adopt a new list that’s shorter but equally unreasonable. The novels now judged too dangerous include ‘The Overstory,’ by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Powers; ‘The Bluest Eye,’ by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison; and — seriously — John Grisham’s ‘The Innocent Man.’ PEN America, which has been concentrating this year on inmates’ access to books, released a statement saying, “If a Pulitzer Prize-winning book falls short of the prison system’s purported criteria of ‘literary merit’ and can thus be banned, it’s hard to imagine what books would pass muster under the state’s standard.” Sadly, this is not a problem isolated to Kansas. The Appalachian Prison Book Project recently shined a light on a program in some West Virginia prisons that gives tablets to inmates but charges them — by the minute — to read books downloaded from Project Gutenberg’s free online library. (A similar scheme was spotted in New York prisons last year by Prison Policy Initiative.) Fortunately, we finally seem to be waking up to these and other abuses.”

Get the full story in the newsletter.

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