Friday, December 31, 2010

Books and Correctional Facilities

I hope all of you readers out there have had a fabulous holiday season and a wonderful Christmas.  Before the New Year comes along this evening, I thought I would pass along one story that ended up in my Inbox recently.  Best Wishes and Happy Party-Times!

David Hudson Jr, a First Amendment Scholar, writes, "A recent decision by a federal judge in Indiana shows that prison officials must provide at least some justification for broad-based bans on reading material."  This comes in response to a situation in which an ex-inmate's Hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was confiscated and destroyed.
Plainfield [Correctional Facility, apparently,] has a policy of banning all hardcover books as inmate personal property, claiming that they present security risks and could be used to smuggle contraband. However, inmates can check hardcover books out of the prison library and can possess softcover books.
This policy was challenged by Michael N. Newsom, a former inmate at Plainfield, after the incident.  While I understand that inmates are under more strict rules, and safety and security are incredibly delicate, books in prisons should be allowed if they pass certain criteria.  The inmates are allowed to take hardcover books out of the prison library, so should they not be allowed hardcover books that have been searched and that present no threat in terms of their subject matter.  I can hardly see how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would threaten security in the prison environment, unless one of them happens to be looking for the Deathly Hallows themselves!
U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson refused to grant [Superintendent Wendy] Knight and the other defendants their request for summary judgment — to have Newsom's case thrown out. She wrote in her Dec. 21 opinion in Newsom v. Knight that “defendants have not shown that a wholesale prohibition on the receipt or possession of hardcover books, even those sent directly from the publisher, is a reasonable response to these security concerns.”
What do you think of this situation?  I have done some research on the ways in which literature can help in the rehabilitation of inmates, especially juvenile delinquents.  In light of this, I think the Judges ruling is very much appropriate and I applaud her decision.

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