ACLU Protests NJ Prisons’ Ban of ‘The New Jim Crow’

Civil liberties group says the ban by two New Jersey prisons of Michelle Alexander’s book about racial injustice is “grossly ironic, misguided, and harmful,” and “also unconstitutional.”

Civil liberties advocates are calling on New Jersey officials to overhaul the state prison system’s book-banning policy after learning inmates were prohibited from reading a best-selling book on mass incarceration, reports The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Department of Corrections asking why two prisons had banned Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” which details how the U.S. justice system disproportionally affects African American men. The letter calls the ban on a book about racial injustice “grossly ironic, misguided, and harmful,” given that New Jersey’s prison population is disproportionately black compared to other states.

“It is also unconstitutional,” attorneys Tess Borden and Alexander Shalom wrote to Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan. State law allows officials to prohibit material that could help an inmate form an escape plan, craft a weapon or otherwise present a danger that might not be in the “penological interest.” The documents show some prisons have banned publications ranging from pornographic magazines and biographies of drug kingpins to the ancient Chinese military strategy tome “The Art of War” and George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” Two facilities — New Jersey State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility — explicitly ban “The New Jim Crow.”