As reported in The Vice, Prisons and jails frequently ban books that reflect political viewpoints carceral officials view as objectionable.
“Prison scholars say this often results in entire categories of thought being banned, including materials relevant to the marginalized groups that disproportionately populate U.S. prisons,” said the article.
The Seattle nonprofit Books to Prisoners donates books to incarcerated populations across the country. They recently received a stack of returned books from the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tennessee. Along with the returned books was a note that read “Malcolm X not allowed.”
Prohibitions of books written by Black and indigenous writers, particularly those who are critical of the carceral system or of capitalism, are commonplace, said the article.
The Vice cited a 2020 study of information available to incarcerated people. The study’s authors said that, “Commonly censored categories of books include Black history and fiction; Indigenous and Latinx publications; LBGTQ fiction and self-help; and publications written by and about incarcerated people.”
Restrictions on incoming books vary widely between jurisdictions and states. The guidelines for the restrictions are often vague, leaving them open to interpretation by employees who are not answerable for their decisions.
The Arizona Department of Corrections prohibits materials that contain, “depictions or descriptions that incite, aid, or abet riots, work stoppages, means of resistance, or any other behaviors that may be detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the institution.” Kentucky prisoners may not possess materials “likely to be disruptive” or “inconsistent with rehabilitative goals.”