In 2019, we saw that censorship is alive and well in the U.S. for 2.2 million incarcerated adults. Prison censorship’s arbitrary nature and content-neutral bans violate human rights and restrict resources for those who need them the most.
In an environment where exposure to natural light is limited to sometimes a mere hour a day, the inward illumination that books are capable of providing should be something that is more accessible and available to inmates. But that is rarely the case for most prison libraries.
Ultimately, when it comes to a fundamental right like reading, all prisoners should have equal access regardless of ability to pay. As I have argued before, reading can play an important role in educating and rehabilitating those prisoners who want to reform. When we place barriers to information between prisoners and rehabilitation, I would argue that they aren’t the only ones who pay – we all do.
The right of incarcerated people to read and the fight to allow them to do so were explored in “Minds Unlocked: Supporting Intellectual Freedom Behind Bars,” at the 2019 ALA Annual in Washington, DC. Librarians, whether they work with incarcerated people or not, are key to helping defend the right to intellectual freedom, and this presentation provided important information on the context of censorship policies and the subjective realities of what incarcerated people are and are not allowed to read.
The incarcerated are an oft-forgotten demographic, but this quality shouldn’t dampen their fundamental human-rights. For US prisoners, access to library materials is wrought with roadblocks built by a tumultuous past.