Books To Prisoners & Codified Censorship

Back in July 2015, Arne Duncan, revived a conversation about prison education in the United States. In the following NPR broadcast, “The Plan To Give Pell Grants To Prisoners” (source), an outline for a potential return-on-investment for tax payers is provided:

The cost-benefit of this does not take a math genius to figure out,” Duncan said. “We lock folks up here, $35-40,000 every single year. A Pell Grant is less than $6,000 each year.”

Here’s a bit more math that Duncan uses to make his case: Of those 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years.

Duncan’s plan involves persuading colleges and universities to run classes inside prison and giving prisoners Pell Grants to help pay for it all. The pilot will last roughly five years and focus on prisoners due to be released in that time. Many other details have yet to be worked out, including what colleges and prisons will participate and how many prisoners will benefit.

As the national conversation begins again about the value of prison education and reducing recidivism, it is worth noting that several small groups in various states have been working together to volunteer for this effort for decades.

Books To Prisons (BTP) was founded in the early 1970s and is sponsored by Left Bank Books (source). As one of the largest and oldest prison book projects in the country, BTP works in conjunction with other agencies that support prisoner literacy and promote social justice. BTP has three associate organizations – Portland Books To Prisoners, Books To Prisoners Olympia, and Bellingham Books To Prisoners.  These sister groups assist in answering letters, mailing packages, and soliciting book donations.

Sometimes their efforts are thwarted by censorship. As a group, they maintain that criminals need broad access to a variety of topics. On the BTP website, they list banned book lists from several states, including some of the rationale by prison management for their policies (source).

Our hope is that one day these restrictions will be lifted. We need to challenge these overly inclusive lists as what they really are: Codified censorship for a vulnerable population. 

See also Censoring Dragonology (source)

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