Blog Briefing Room

Arizona prisons ban inmates from reading book on racism in criminal justice

The Arizona Department of Corrections is facing backlash for reportedly banning prisoners from reading a book that discusses racial injustice in the criminal justice system.

Paul Butler, the author behind the "Chokehold: Policing Black Men" and a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, told The Associated Press in an interview this week that he was informed his book was banned due to its "unauthorized content." 

Butler, a former federal prosecutor, told the publication that the notice did not specify what content was classified as "unauthorized," but said it stated that whatever the materials were, they were deemed "detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility."

"I disavow violence because first, I think it's immoral, and second, because it wouldn't work," Butler told the news agency. "I've received letters from several inmates who have read 'Chokehold' while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading 'Chokehold' has caused any problems in prison."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the corrections department to rescind its ban on the book this week or face legal action following reports of the ban.

First Amendment advocates have said the ban constitutes censorship.

"In order for them to ban a book, they have to show the restriction is related to a legitimate prison interest," Emerson Sykes, an attorney representing the ACLU, told the AP in a statement. "There's no interest to keep inmates from learning about the criminal justice system and policing."

Sykes said state prisons have banned books before.

"When these issues come up, we try our best to push back against them," Sykes added. "Unfortunately, the reality is I think in many cases, no action is taken because people whose rights are being affected are not in a strong position to push back."

Sykes said the ACLU is prepared to sue if corrections officials do not respond to the organization's written request to end the book's ban.

According to the news agency, about 14.5 percent of the Arizona's prison population is comprised of black people, though the group makes up only 5 percent of the state's total population. 

"One in 19 black men are in prison in Arizona right now," Butler told the AP. "Rather than acknowledge it's a good thing that inmates want to read about and debate important public policy, Arizona pushes back against rehabilitation, against literacy, against the Constitution."

The report comes several months after two prisons in New Jersey were alleged to have banned inmates from reading "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," a book that explores the idea of the mass incarceration of blacks as a new form of slavery.

Outbrain