Censorship In Prisons

The prison system's censorship process of books and publications is more complex than it appears. It seems reasonable for some censorship of materials in prisons to ensure safety and security. Understandably how-to books about illegal activities seem sensible to ban to this population, but many books fall into a gray area. Some banned books are arbitrary: classics like James Joyce's Ulysses.

Prison Legal News founded by Paul Wright in 1993, has been censored in more than twenty one states and has an interesting history of providing information and unique struggles for a publication:

The incarcerated in America have limited Internet access, so one might imagine that it's still possible to produce a profitable print publication when your target readership resides in jails and prisons. But like the print industry in general, publications focused on prison policy have struggled. Their advertising and subscription numbers are declining even as the prison population -- and by extension, the number of people with family members in prison -- increases.

"Look at the number of prison magazines there were in the 1970s, when the prison population was like an eighth of what it is today," Wright says. The educational level of the average inmate is also a factor. "You're targeting a population that, depending on the state, is 60 to 80 percent functionally illiterate," Wright shrugs. "On its face, this isn't a good demographic for a magazine."

Adam Serwer explores Books Behind Bars in The American Prospect this week.

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