Friday, July 22, 2011

Inmate's Right to Read Upheld, but Policy Still in Need of Change

The following is directly from a short piece in the Baltimore Sun this week, an article on the decision of Hagerstown prison to allow an inmate to read an autobiography about Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a Baltimore Black Panther.
Our view: Correction authorities make right call in reversing ban of inmate's book from the Hagerstown prison, but policy still needs to be changed. 
Maryland corrections officials made the right call today when they lifted the ban on a book written by a inmate Marshall "Eddie" Conway, but the troublesome — and almost certainly unconstitutional — policies that led to the banning in the first place remain. The book "Marshall Law —The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther," is no longer prohibited reading at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, but the prison system is sticking by its assertion that it can restrict inmates' speech rights beyond what is necessary to maintain security. 
Originally prison officials said the autobiography had been banned because the author and the inmates whose photos appear in the book failed to notify the victims of their crimes of the book's publication. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union had questioned this procedure, saying giving the victims tacit veto power over an inmate's right to speak out is a violation of the First Amendment.
While prisons are around for the purposes of punishment and reintegration of people into society with a hopefully less criminally-minded way of life, I don't quite understand how keeping certain books out of the hands of inmates is at all helpful.  Late last year I noted two other instances of books being kept away from inmates: The Bible-only policy in a South Carolina jail and the confiscation of Harry Potter in the Plainfield correctional facility.  As I said in my post on Harry Potter:
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!
I can understand the removal of certain texts perhaps, but the removal of books such as Harry Potter, autobiographies, and Bibles that aren't softcover seems a little bit ridiculous. It is good, in my opinion, that organizations such as the ACLU are around to take notice of these situations and defend First Amendment rights, even when prisons and correctional facilities want to pretend they don't apply to inmates.

What are your thoughts on books in prisons?  Do you think that books should be confiscated for any specific reasons?  I would be interested to see what you all have to say.

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