07:04, January 08 51 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-08 07:04:04
Acclaimed book The New Jim Crow banned in some New Jersey prisons

An acclaimed book about discrimination against African Americans in the criminal justice system has been banned from some prisons in New Jersey, according to newly obtained records.

The New Jim Crow, an award-winning book by Michelle Alexander published in 2010, appears on lists of publications that inmates in state correctional facilities may not possess.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which obtained the banned book lists in response to a public records request, called for the ban to be lifted and said it violated the rights of inmates under the first amendment to the US constitution.

In a letter due to be sent on Monday to Gary Lanigan, New Jersey’s corrections commissioner, the ACLU said the ban was particularly troubling because the state had the country’s widest disparity between white and black incarceration rates.

“For the state burdened with this systemic injustice to prohibit prisoners from reading a book about race and mass incarceration is grossly ironic, misguided, and harmful,” Tess Borden, an ACLU staff attorney, said in the letter.

Under New Jersey regulations, inmates are not allowed to receive publications that threaten prison safety, incite violence or feature details of activities such as bomb-making and lock-picking. Magazines appealing to a “prurient interest in sex” are also barred.

It was not clear from the records why Alexander’s book had been judged unsuitable. Also banned were magazines covering hip-hop and black culture such as The Source and XXL.

A spokesman for the state corrections department did not respond to an email on Sunday.

Subtitled “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Alexander’s book spent several weeks on US bestseller lists and was hailed as the “secular bible of a new social movement” by the academic Cornel West.

It argues that the American criminal justice system amounts to “a contemporary system of racial control”, decades after the abolition of slavery and so-called “Jim Crow” laws that enforced racial segregation.

The newly released records, which were not clearly labelled by state authorities, indicated that Alexander’s book was banned at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton and Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont.