Reviews | Prison systems insist on banning books by black authors. It’s time to end censorship.

Prison censorship still shocks us, even after years of working with Books to Prisoners, but it rarely surprises us now. The SCCF’s ban of Malcolm X is part of a widespread pattern of censorship by prisons that selectively and intentionally targets books by black authors and books containing criticism of the treatment of black people in this country. Recent bans have included Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by prisons in Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina; a ban on Paul Butler’s “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” by the Arizona Department of Corrections; and bans by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety on Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “I Am Not Your Negro” by James Baldwin. In 2019, an Illinois prison attempted to remove 200 books that focused primarily on race and civil rights from its facility. In 2020, researchers found that a Wisconsin committee allowed “Mein Kampf” into prisons after review, but banned Black Panther posts because it considered them gang-related material. PEN America investigated prison censorship in 2019 and found that “prison systems frequently ban literature that discusses civil rights, historic abuses in American prisons, or criticism of the prison system itself, often on the grounds that these titles advocate the disruption of the social order of the prison.”

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