AUSTIN, TX — What do Jon Stewart, William Shakespeare, Sojouner Truth, Juan Williams, Jenna Bush, 50 Cent, John Grisham, Noam Chomsky, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, George Orwell, Gustave Flaubert, George Carlin, and Sister Helen Prejean have in common?
They have each written at least one book banned in Texas prisons.
The Texas Civil Rights Project has announced the release of its eleventh Human Rights Report, “Banned Books in the Texas Prison System: How the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Censors Books Sent to Prisoners.” For the first time, the report reveals the complete list of banned (and allowed) books in the Texas prison system.
“TDCJ’s book censorship is, frankly, bizarre,” said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program. “Certainly there are some books prisons could legitimately censor. TDCJ, however, allows prisoners to read some of those titles, while banning numerous important works of literature, history and politics.”
The banned books list includes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, New York Times bestsellers, and books by Nobel Peace Prize nominees, National Public Radio correspondents, Ivy League professors, civil rights leaders, and even the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Conversely, the report sites two clear of examples of allowed books that could be banned: Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf (along with several other White Supremacist books), and Che Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare (which includes instructions on how to build a mortar).
“Literacy is probably the most important skill a prisoner can have when they are released from custody,” explained Medlock. “Reading keeps prisoners occupied while they’re incarcerated, and helps them develop the skills they need to eventually become productive members of society. Arbitrarily banning books fights against these goals.”
“It’s especially outrageous TDCJ censors dozens of books about prison conditions,” said Medlock. The banned books list includes Prof. Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough, a critically acclaimed history of TDCJ itself.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) arbitrarily censors books and magazines sent to Texas prisoners. Though cultivating literacy has obvious rehabilitative benefits, TDCJ prevents prisoners from reading many books, including works by award-winning authors, literary classics, and books about civil rights and prison conditions. In violation of prisoners’ First Amendment rights, TDCJ prohibits the simple pleasure of reading important books.