AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Marshall Project worked for a year to establish a list of books banned in prisons across the U.S.
The number of titles banned varies from state to state. Keri Blakinger, a journalist with the nonprofit, found in Rhode Island only 68 books were banned, but in Texas, there were nearly 10,000. Other states were unable to provide any data on which books are banned and others did not keep a list at all. In total, Blakinger found there are 54,000 recorded books incarcerated people across the country cannot access in prisons.
“One of the sort of striking trends was how much variation there is,” Blakinger told KXAN. “There are some states that have fairly punitive prison systems, some southern states that can be fairly aggressive that actually had fairly small banned book lists,” she said. “And then you have Florida that bans somewhere around 20,000.”
Blakinger said through her work on this project she found many of the bans seemed illogical. She found, for example, books with sexually explicit information or diagrams of human genitalia were banned in many prisons across the country.
“Prisons are doing forced group strip searches on a regular basis. So banning books, when you can see the real thing in front of you, seems really dumb,” she said.
Further, she found books depicting violence were banned in some prisons, even though incarcerated people are able to access court filings with violent descriptions and are frequently exposed to violent incidents while behind bars.
Blakinger said the process of banning books varies from state to state. About half of the states do not keep track of the books they don’t allow into prisons, evaluating each book on a case-by-case basis, she said. Other states, like Oregon, dispose of the list every three years and then reevaluate whether a book should be added again, she said.
In Texas, Blakinger found when a book is banned, it is added to a statewide list. Though she said she is not aware of any official review process, Blakinger has noticed books are periodically removed.
Here is a list of all the books the Marshall Project found incarcerated Texans are unable to access while they are behind bars:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)
It is a TDJC policy to review all reading material before it can be allowed to enter a facility, TDJC Communications Officer Robert Hurst told KXAN. He said a publication can be rejected based on the following criteria:
a. It contains contraband that cannot be removed;
b. It contains information regarding the manufacture of explosives, weapons, or drugs;
c. It contains material that a reasonable person would construe as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes, riots, or STG activity;
d. A specific determination has been made that the publication contains graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law, such as rape, incest, sex with a minor, bestiality, necrophilia, or bondage;
e. It contains sexually explicit images. Publications shall not be prohibited solely because the publication displays naked or partially covered buttocks. Subject to review by the Mail System Coordinators Panel and on a case-by-case basis, publications constituting educational, medical, scientific, or artistic materials, including, but not limited to, anatomy medical reference books, general practitioner reference books or guides, National Geographic, or artistic reference material depicting historical, modern, or postmodern era art, may be permitted; or
f. It contains material on the setting up and operation of criminal schemes or how to avoid detection of criminal schemes by lawful authorities charged with the responsibility for detecting such illegal activity.