In April 2021, the Iowa prison system passed a rule prohibiting charities, families, and others from providing books to inmates. The document stated: “Prisoners can only obtain books through an authorized seller.” Brand new sizes, used sizes are not allowed.
This action follows a nationwide strategy, Alex Scobey writes in Protein, a left-wing nonprofit newspaper. Michigan introduced a similar regulation in 2018; Other states – such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington – did not succeed only because of citizen protests. Officially, the ban serves to prevent smuggling and thus protect security and order in prisons. But the unauthorized handling of merchandise, which is a problem in prisons, rarely affects books: mobile phones, cigarettes and marijuana are the most common items. The reporter notes that “the old picture of the book etched inside to hide a hacksaw or a pistol is good for comics, not reality.” “If it is used to justify an action, it means that there is something else underneath.”
As often happens, the real goal is profit. Among the few Iowa retail booksellers who need to turn to is Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million (two of the largest bookstore chains in the United States), who offer them their wares at full price. For e-books, the situation is even more absurd. The Appalachian Prison Book Project denounced it in 2019: incarcerated people can download many texts for free and legally from different platforms, for example the Gutenberg Project, but to read them they have to use tablets provided by companies such as Global Tel Link, which charges User charges for calling minutes. On each account, the prison collects a 5 percent commission. In parallel, essential services such as libraries were cut off. Skopic takes the example of Illinois: In 2017, the state’s prison system, which has about 39,000 inmates, spent $276 on books.
Finally, to the extent of donations and reductions, there are lists of texts that are not allowed due to their content: practically every American prison has its own list. Andy Chan and Michelle Dillon of the nonprofit Books to Prisoners spoke about it in a January article in the Washington Post. The argument is a fact dating back to late December 2021, when a Tennessee prison returned a package containing three copies of an unauthorized book to the Society. The volume in question was an autobiography of Malcolm X, published by the same publishing house that publishes the Harry Potter series in the United States and recommended for high school students.
Chan and Dillon explained that censorship targets the texts of African American authors or contains criticisms of the treatment of blacks. recently hit The New Jim Crow: Mass Prison in the Age of Color Blindness Written by Michael Alexander The bluest eye by Toni Morrison E I’m not your nigger by James Baldwin. In 2020, Wisconsin will allow guests to read my struggle But not the posts on Black Panthers. A year ago, Pen America concluded in a study that “prison systems frequently ban literature discussing civil rights and prison abuse” as a threat.
Restricting prisoners’ right to read is a practice closely associated with white supremacy, and thus with American history. But recent mobilizations across the country offer hope for change, not to mention that there are simple enough ways to boost it. Books for prisoner activist and journalist Scooby suggests: donate to a prison library, support a local literacy project, or start one.