by Christopher Zoukis published in Prison Legal News December, 2018

Excerpts from this article:

In addition to the many other privations prisoners experience, they are often subjected to censorship of books, magazines and even correspondence by prison officials. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit wrote, “The simple opportunity to read a book or write a letter, whether it expresses political views or absent affections, supplies a vital link between the inmate and the outside world, and nourishes the prisoner’s mind despite the blankness and bleakness of his environment.” See: Wolfish v. Levi, 573 F.2d 118 (2d Cir. 1978), rev’d sum nom. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979).

Yet restrictions on books and magazines have become commonplace in prisons and jails.

The Importance of Books Behind Bars

Reginald Dwayne Betts, a critically-acclaimed poet and graduate of Yale Law School, said that when he was incarcerated, “books became magic.” Now 38, he served time for a trio of felony convictions related to a car-jacking at a Virginia shopping mall when he was 16.

“When I got locked up [reading books] became magic, it became a means to an end,” he stated. “It became the way in which I experienced the world, but more importantly, I think, it became the way in which I learned about what it means to be human, and to be flawed and to want things that you can’t have.”

Books are also a cure for chronic idleness, which the Vera Institute’s Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons called one of the greatest threats to safety in correctional facilities. Victor Kersey, the Utah DOC’s director of institutional programming, said “[a]nytime you keep an offender engaged and busy, they’re less likely to display negative behavior.”

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