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The book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was added to New Jersey's list of books banned from some of the state's correctional facilities. (Photo: Handout)

'Ironic, Misguided, and Harmful': Prisons Slammed for Banning Book on Racist Legacy of Mass Incarceration

"It is one thing to prevent incarcerated people from reading how-to manuals on lock-picking. It is something altogether different to deny people access to a book that 'offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration.'"

Julia Conley

Civil rights advocates denounced New Jersey's prison system on Monday after learning that the book The New Jim Crow, about race and mass incarceration in the U.S., has been banned from some of the state's prisons.

"The DOC—and every player in the criminal justice system, from police officers and prosecutors to judges and legislators—must take affirmative steps to reduce our state's shameful racial disparities," wrote Tess Borden and Alexander Shalom, attorneys with the state's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, in a letter to the New Jersey Department of Corrections. "The ban on The New Jim Crow does precisely the opposite and is a step backwards instead."

"In its worst light, it looks like an attempt to keep impacted people uninformed about the history of the very injustice that defines their daily lives."—ACLU-New Jersey

The ACLU accused the prison system of violating the First Amendment by withholding the book, written by Michelle Alexander and subtitled "Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," and argued that there is no legitimate reason to ban the award-winning work.

Under New Jersey's own regulations, prisons are allowed to ban material that has been shown to hinder the security of facilities—including writings on lock-picking, weapon-making, and materials that could "incite violence"—but The New Jim Crow is far from fitting this description, said the attorneys.

The book details the history of the U.S. prison system and how it came to house a disproportionate number of black men, growing out of the slavery system and discriminatory Jim Crow laws. New Jersey's correctional facilities offer an especially egregious example of this, incarcerating black people more than 12 times as often as white residents—compared with the national ratio of five-to-one.

"It is one thing to prevent incarcerated people from reading how-to manuals on lock-picking," wrote Borden and Shalom. "It is something altogether different to deny people access to a book that 'offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration.'"

They added, "For the state burdened with this systemic injustice to prohibit prisoners from reading a book about race and mass incarceration is grossly ironic, misguided, and harmful...In its worst light, it looks like an attempt to keep impacted people uninformed about the history of the very injustice that defines their daily lives."


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2.5 Million Nurses Demand UN Probe Into 'Covid-19 Criminals' Blocking Patent Waiver

The European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore "must be investigated for blocking a faster global vaccine rollout leading to the loss of countless lives."

Jake Johnson ·


WHO, South Africa Urge Nations to Lift 'Naive' Omicron Travel Bans

"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic."

Brett Wilkins ·


EU Joins Rights Group in Condemning Israel's 'Day of Destruction' of Palestinian Homes

"Demolitions are illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace."

Brett Wilkins ·


GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

Brett Wilkins ·


Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

Brett Wilkins ·

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