AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Marshall Project worked for a year to establish a list of books banned in U.S. prisons
The number of banned titles varies from state to state. Keri Blakenger, a reporter for the nonprofit, found that in Rhode Island, only 68 books had been banned, but in Texas, there were nearly 10,000. Other states were unable to provide data on banned books, and others kept no lists. In total, Blakenger found that there are 54,000 registered books that incarcerated people across the country cannot access in prisons.
Banned Book Library highlights disputed and revoked titles in public libraries, schools
“One of the surprising trends has been the amount of variation there is,” Blakenger told KXAN. “There are some states that have fairly punitive prison systems, some Southern states that can be aggressive enough that they actually had pretty small banned book lists,” she said. “And then you have Florida banning somewhere around 20,000.”
Blakenger said through his work on this project he found many of the bans seemed illogical. She found, for example, that books with sexually explicit information or diagrams of human genitalia were banned in many prisons across the country.
“Prisons regularly carry out forced gang searches. So banning books, when you can see the real thing in front of you, feels really stupid,” she said.
It also found that books depicting violence have been banned in some prisons, even though incarcerated people can access court documents with violent descriptions and are often exposed to violent incidents while behind bars.
Blakenger said the process for banning books varies from state to state. About half of states don’t track which books they don’t allow in prisons, evaluating each book on a case-by-case basis, she said. Other states, like Oregon, drop the list every three years and then reevaluate whether a book should be added again, she said.
In Texas, Blakenger found that when a book is banned, it is added to a statewide list. While she said she’s unaware of any official review process, Blakenger has noted that books are periodically removed.
Here is a list of all the books that the Marshall Project has discovered that incarcerated Texans cannot access while behind bars:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)
It is TDJC policy to review all reading material before it is permitted to enter a facility, TDJC communications manager Robert Hurst told KXAN. He said that a publication can be rejected based on the following criteria:
A. Contains contraband that cannot be removed;
B. Contains information regarding the manufacture of explosives, weapons or drugs;
C. Contains material that a reasonable person would interpret as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to bring about the collapse of prisons through the disruption of crime such as strikes, riots or STG activities;
D. It has been specifically determined that the publication contains graphic depictions of sexual behavior that violates the law, such as rape, incest, sex with a minor, bestiality, necrophilia, or bondage;
And. Contains sexually explicit images. Postings are not prohibited just because the post shows bare or partially covered buttocks. Subject to review by the Mail System Coordinators Group and on a case-by-case basis, publications that constitute educational, medical, scientific, or artistic materials, including, but not limited to, medical reference books on anatomy, reference books o general practitioner guides, National Geographic, or art reference material depicting historic, modern, or postmodern art, may be permitted; OR
F. Contains material on the establishment and operation of criminal schemes or how to avoid detection of criminal schemes by legal authorities charged with detecting such illegal activities.