AUSTIN – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas today filed a brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals urging that court to overturn a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jacks which held that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) could censor books that are critical of prison conditions and prison policies.
The case was brought by Prisoner Legal News, a non-profit organization which publishes a monthly magazine on prisoners’ rights and distributes books on prison-related topics, after TDCJ officials refused to allow Texas inmates access to publications such as Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, by Silja J.A. Talvi and Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits From Crime, by Joel Dyer. Prison officials contended that the censored books jeopardize inmate rehabilitation and prison security because they contain descriptions of assault, prison rape, and racism on the part of prison guards.
“A core purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech critical of the government,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “TDCJ’s censorship of these books is a transparent attempt to suppress speech that is critical of the government – specifically, books concerning prison conditions, the mistreatment of prisoners, and/or the system of mass incarceration in this country,”
Other censored books include:
· Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis, by Christian Parenti, which was censored for one page that described prison guards forming a racist organization.
· Soledad Brother, by George Jackson, which was banned due to “racial” content that even current TDCJ officials do not consider offensive.
The ACLU’s friend of the court brief was authored by cooperating attorney Lisa White Shirley of Simmons, Eddings and Greenstone LLP, and was joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center; the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the National Coalition Against Censorship; the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts; and several of the authors of the censored publications.