Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let's Talk About: Censorship in Prisons! [Wait, people still read? Don't they know about YouTube? Tweeting? Facebook?]

As someone who highly values the printed word in an age of technology--as a means of escaping, educating, or exploring--I was left wondering about the access prisoners have to books while incarcerated. Do they have libraries? Do they read to pass the time? What sorts of books, if any, do they have access to? In my initial searching, I found that in the Standard for Adult Correctional Institutions’ Libraries there is a Bill of Rights and Resolution on Prisoner’s Right to Read (1982). Basically, this Bill of Rights states that prisoners have the right to read while incarcerated--however, this didn’t tell me what prisoners read or were allowed to read. I later found that: “In general, prison libraries, using the Standards as a guide, aim to provide materials and services for the educational, informational, cultural, vocational, and recreational needs of prisoners” (Censorship and Prison Libraries). Though this sounds like it covers a wide variety of written material for prisoners, censorship has become a major issue within prisons, depending on state and institution. Prison authorities are attempting [and succeeding without retribution] to limit or violate prisoners right to read. With the closing or down-sizing of prison libraries, access to libraries as a “privilege” within prisons, and the growing restrictions on what books are allowed, prisoners are facing great difficulties in finding materials. According to one article, librarians face a great deal of restriction when trying to introduce books into their libraries. Some of the rules included:
“No graphic novels because some show skimpily dressed women and it may affect sex treatment programs.
No hardback books, because it is easy to hide contraband in spine of these books.
No ethnic materials or programs because it means they would have to provide for every ethnic group that demands materials.
Mail room has a 20 page list of materials that are not allowed.
They have faith-based programs and want materials that support those programs.
They tear out sections of magazines that have what they consider inappropriate before sending them to the library or to the inmates who have subscriptions.”
These rules alone can be dissected and the injustice will shine through. Not allowing ethnic material [which presumably would include books on different cultures, religions, histories, oppression, information on different movements, activists, and much more] because they would have to “provide for every ethnic group that demands materials” is simply an excuse not to allow books that would raise consciousness in prisoners about their oppression and mistreatment. Advocating for materials that support faith-based programming and not allowing books that go against this faith-base doesn’t allow prisoners to gather information for themselves--it takes away their ability to decide their best form of recovery/treatment/education. Not only that, but it infringes upon our separation of church and state [as do the programs themselves… But that’s an entirely different discussion]. Regardless, censorship within prisons seems to point to prison authorities’ intense fear of prisoners’ agency. It seems to be another tool to keep the masses of prisoners under the thumb of authority. It takes away their ability to adequately defend themselves [if they are using the libraries to research for their case], educate themselves, find treatment support, improve their literacy, gain skills, or entertain themselves. This is a gross injustice on the part of incarcerated individuals. What are you going to do to make sure everyone has access to the written word?

Censorship and Prisons:

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