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North Carolina Audits The List of Banned Books in Prisons

Photo: Reading behind bars
Impact Sports Prison Ministry

This week the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to state officials asking them to remove “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness” (The New Press/2012) from the list of banned books in state prisons. The book argues that the U.S. criminal justice system is a contemporary system of racial control.

The day after state officials received the letter from the ACLU, they removed “The New Jim Crow” from the list of banned books.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Chris Brook, legal director for the North Carolina ACLU, about why the list of banned books exists and the criteria for how books make it on the list. Michele Luecking-Sunman, an attorney who works with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, discusses her experience working with inmates whose books were banned.

Interview Highlights

Chris Brook on the letter from the North Carolina ACLU to state prison officials:
[The letter] really highlighted, first and foremost, that those who are incarcerated in North Carolina do not lose their constitutional rights … They have First Amendment rights to receive publications. But second, also highlighting the real perversity in preventing prisoners who are very familiar with the racial disparities in our prison system here in North Carolina from accessing a book that talks about mass incarceration and talks about racial injustices in our criminal justice system.

One of the most important things to remember is that the vast majority of the people who are in our prisons in North Carolina will be released. So they were your neighbors and members of your community before they went to prison, and they will be again. - Michele Luecking-Sunman

Michele Luecking-Sunman on what happens if the state’s Publications Review Committee decides material is not appropriate for the inmates: 
If they determine that the book or the magazine is not appropriate, the person who's incarcerated can determine if they'd like to have it sent home or sent to a friend. Or it will be destroyed, and then it remains on the list for a year.

Check out the book trailer for "The New Jim Crow":

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.