Updated Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, 1:15 p.m. EST: After being called out by the ACLU for banning an award-winning book about mass incarceration, New Jersey said that it has lifted the ban on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
According to the New York Times, the state made its decision after the ACLU issued a letter to the state’s corrections commissioner, calling the ban a “systemic injustice” that is “grossly ironic, misguided and harmful,” as well as a violation of inmates’ First Amendment rights.
The ACLU also asked for the Department of Corrections to look into how its facilities decide which publications are banned.
On Monday the department announced that the band had been lifted from all facilities, emphasizing that there had never been a departmentwide ban on the text. The departmental also confirmed that it will be examining its policy on texts that are allowed, as well as “all current lists of banned written materials.”
Interestingly enough, even though at least two prisons in the state had the book on the no-go list, the Department of Corrections noted that the book was used by the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education Program, which gives inmates the opportunity to enroll in college-level courses, citing that as one of the reasons the ban was lifted.
“Officials determined that the book should not have been banned, as evidenced by the fact that it is being utilized as a teaching tool for NJ-STEP students.” New Jersey Department of Corrections spokesperson Matthew Schuman told the Times.
A lot of things look funny in the light, and when prisons ban a critically acclaimed book about the discrimination black people face in the criminal-justice system ... well, that’s more than a little funny.
Nonetheless, according to The Guardian, that’s exactly what is happening in some prisons in New Jersey, which have reportedly banned Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness .
Records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a public-records request show that the book, which was published in 2010, is on lists of publications inmates in state facilities may not possess. The organization is now calling for the ban to be lifted, saying that the ban violates the First Amendment rights of inmates.
“For the state burdened with this systemic injustice to prohibit prisoners from reading a book about race and mass incarceration is grossly ironic, misguided and harmful,” ACLU staff attorney Tess Borden wrote in a letter to be sent Monday to New Jersey Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan.
The Guardian notes that under regulations in the state, inmates are prohibited from getting publications that threaten prison safety, incite violence, or show how to do certain activities such as make bombs or pick locks. Magazines appealing to a “prurient interest in sex,” as well as magazines about hip-hop and black culture, are also banned.
The records, according to the report, do not make it clear why Alexander’s book was put on the no-go list at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton and Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont.
But I’m sure we can hazard a few guesses.
Read more at The Guardian.