The North Carolina Department of Public Safety will immediately remove The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
from its list of books that are banned in state prisons, a day after the ACLU of North Carolina sent DPS officials a letter demanding it do so.
"Yesterday, the department received a letter from the ACLU requesting immediate removal of The New Jim Crow from the NCDPS Disapproved Publications Report," a DPS spokesperson told the INDY
in an email. "Upon receipt, the department responded to the ACLU that it would look into the matter. As of today, the director of Prisons has decided to immediately remove the book titled The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander from the Disapproved Publications Report. The director will be reviewing the entire list to determine whether any other books will be removed from the report."
The ACLU of NC says
prohibiting Michelle Alexander's award-winning 2010 book is not only a violation of prisoners' First Amendment rights but also "cruelly ironic given the critical role it plays to understanding the pervasive racial injustice behind our epidemic of mass incarceration." In a letter to DPS officials
, the organization asked that the book be removed from the state's Master List of Disapproved Publications, that DPS review the list, and that the agency turn over any records and communications related to the banned books list or The New Jim Crow.
As NC DPS itself recognizes, censoring prisoner access to publications that grapple with matters of public interest, such as The New Jim Crow
merits heightened scrutiny," the letter reads. "The fact that other prison system permit the book undermines the connection between legitimate interest in safety and this exercise in censorship. Barring The New Jim Crow
from our state's prisons because it shines a light on a harsh reality confronted every day by Black prisoners in North Carolina is not only indefensible as a matter of constitutional rights, DPS policy and logic but also cruelly ironic."
Department of Corrections policy says publications describing violence, escape, the commission of a crime, or the manufacture of poisons or drugs, or publications containing sexually explicit material may be banned. However, "no publication or material will be withheld solely on the basis of its appeal to a particular ethnic, racial or religious group. A publication may not be rejected solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant."
North Carolina isn't the only state
where the book has been banned in prison. Earlier this month, New Jersey prisons lifted their ban on the book under fire from that state's ACLU chapter. It's also banned in Florida.
According to the New York Times
, the book was most recently banned in North Carolina prisons last February because it was considered "likely to provoke confrontation between racial groups.” The INDY
has requested an updated version of the Master List of Disapproved Publications, but a 2015 version
published by nonprofit Books to Prisoners and cited by the ACLU of NC does include The New Jim Crow.
That list also included editions of magazines like Rolling Stone, Juxtapoz, Us Weekly, Popular Mechanics Men's Health
and New York Magazine
. Editions of some publications aimed at prisoners, like Prison Legal News, Turning the Tide
and Black and Pink
, were also prohibited along with a Communist paper and a Muslim publication. Among the banned books were The Girl Who Played With Fire, the German Unabridged Dictionary, The Life and Times of Charles Manson
and The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge