ACLU wants prisons to end ban on mass incarceration book

AP News
Posted: Jan 08, 2018 12:10 PM

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union wants New Jersey corrections officials to allow inmates to read a best-selling book on mass incarceration and racial discrimination.

The state chapter of the civil rights group sent a letter Monday asking why at least two prisons have banned "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander.

The ACLU calls the ban "ironic, misguided, and harmful." It says the ban amounts to unconstitutional censorship of speech on issues of public concern, which is entitled to special protection under the First Amendment.

A corrections department spokeswoman declined comment Monday and said a statement would be issued later in the day. Both New Jersey State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility ban the book as official policy.

Prisons and jails are allowed to ban reading materials based on legitimate concerns such as security issues, but the ACLU contends officials can't claim that justification applies here. They also note that Texas — which the group says has a 10,000-title list of banned reading materials — not only allows the book but included it on a list of publications the state has affirmatively approved.

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"Michelle Alexander's book chronicles how people of color are not just locked in, but locked out of civic life, and New Jersey has exiled them even further by banning this text specifically for them," said Amol Sinha, executive director of New Jersey's ACLU chapter. "The ratios and percentages of mass incarceration play out in terms of human lives. Keeping a book that examines a national tragedy out of the hands of the people mired within it adds insult to injury."