Utopia is banned in Texas prisons? It’s Banned Books Week
It’s Banned Books Week again:
“Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read.”
Since 1982, the group (which includes the American Library Association) has listed the most “challenged” books.
I write about this every year, and my feelings on it are simple and I think pretty clear. Reading books is a good thing. Reading diverse books is a good thing. Limiting the books people read, as a rule of thumb, is a bad thing.
I can understand banning the distribution or sale of books which infringe copyright: that’s not the same thing as banning the book, it’s enforcing the law on a particular version or circulation of a book.
This year, I thought I’d highlight a particular issue: books banned in prisons.
Let’s start with this article from The Guardian (a British newspaper):
It talks specifically about the Texas Department of Criminal Justice banning a wide variety of books for prisoners.
It kicks off talking about Wolf Boys, a non-fiction book which doesn’t encourage drug use…but does have a short section on an obvious way to smuggle drugs, which is apparently why it was banned.
I would have linked to it…but the publisher has blocked text-to-speech** access, which is another whole issue and not, let me stress, equivalent.
This is the government preventing prisoners from getting books…legal censorship for a particular population.
Now, unquestionably, prisoners have fewer rights than the non-prison population. As a simple example, they can’t freely assemble within the prison…they can be told specifically they can’t gather together.
I tried to find an official list of all the books that are banned…and was stymied in several attempts. I found broken 404 links, and comments (including from news organizations) about not being able to get such a list.
That seems a bit odd. Doesn’t seem like the family of a prisoner, who might buy a paper copy of a book and send it to a prisoner, should know if it will be confiscated and the rules offended? They might not want to break the rules: but how can they do that if they don’t know what they are? Sure, I can see a spot decision made on a book which has not been previously evaluated, but you might as well tell people the books about which you’ve already decided.
I’ve seen some books listed, but can’t confirm them…hence the “?” in my headline.
I saw a report that they ban
This is a 16th Century book by Thomas More about a fictional society…the word has come into common use as a “perfect society”, but I’m sure that’s not how people tend to seriously interpret it (for one thing, slavery is part of the society…although the slaves do have gold chains).
On the other hand, I’ve seen a report that Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler is permitted.
I would give prisoners free access to any legally produced books.
I can immediately see some objections raised.
Sexually explicit material?
Sure, that’s fine with me, when legally produced.
Books on making bombs? If they are legal, I’m not banning them. What, you think when criminals have served their terms they can’t get those books on the outside? They won’t have the materials they need in the prison…you aren’t preventing them from learning how to make bombs, you are just delaying it.
Racist/homophobic/sexist books and so on?
Yes, I would allow that. I wouldn’t have the government determining what fits certain rules and what doesn’t. Fifty years ago, many topics which we consider to be acceptable, even empowering today, would have been banned as potentially dangerous…that they would make people not “right thinking”.
I suspect that unfettered access to public libraries for prisoners would have a net positive effect on reducing future criminal acts.
I don’t have the evidence for that…just my feeling. I would guess that the TDCJ doesn’t have science that shows that reading a book that advocates hatred against a protected group being read by prisoners actually increases activity against that group.
I don’t know much about them, but I did run across this organization:
You can choose to support them through
if you like…maybe just for this week. There are other organizations you can support that way that may tie into this issue, of course.
All of this reminds me of the campaign against comic books in the 1950s, covered more than ably in
by David Hadju, which I recommend.
That’s not to equate prisoners with children, but in both cases, the concept is that reading may corrupt the morals of a population (although, clearly, there are other justifications given for banning books for prisoners, including, as noted above, practical knowledge).
What do you think? Should prisoners have free access to books? If not, which types of books should be banned? Why should they be banned? Is it because of the impact of the book on the prisoner, or as a form of punishment? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help! By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.
** A Kindle/Fire with text-to-speech can read any text downloaded to it…unless that access is blocked by the publisher inserting code into the file to prevent it. That’s why you can have the device read personal documents to you (I’ve done that). I believe that this sort of access blocking disproportionately disadvantages the disabled, although I also believe it is legal (provided that there is at least one accessible version of each e-book available, however, that one can require a certification of disability). For that reason, I don’t deliberately link to books which block TTS access here (although it may happen accidentally, particularly if the access is blocked after I’ve linked it). I do believe this is a personal decision, and there are legitimate arguments for purchasing those books.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.