North Carolina’s prisons director said that inmates would be allowed to read a previously-banned book, “The New Jim Crow,” and that the entire list of prohibited publications was under review.
North Carolina’s prison system on Tuesday dropped its ban on a book about mass incarceration and will review other prohibited books after an objection from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union affiliate.
The decision makes North Carolina the second state this month to announce that it will allow its prisoners to read “The New Jim Crow,” a best-selling book by the civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander about the connection between racism and mass incarceration.
New Jersey, also prompted by a state A.C.L.U. affiliate, said on Jan. 8 that it would overturn a prohibition that two of its prisons had placed on the book.
North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state’s correctional facilities, said in a statement Tuesday that its director of prisons, Kenneth Lassiter, had decided to immediately remove “The New Jim Crow” from a list of disapproved publications.
Furthermore, the department said Mr. Lassiter would review the entire list “to determine whether any other books will be removed from the report.”
A day earlier, the A.C.L.U. of North Carolina had sent prison officials a letter citing a New York Times report about prisons banning the book.
Chris Brook, the legal director for the North Carolina A.C.L.U. affiliate, said that Tuesday’s move was just one step forward on an issue that his organization has been grappling with for some time.
“There is a particular perverse irony about barring a book about racism and mass incarceration from prisons in our state,” he said. “But this is a broader problem.”
He added that prison officials were responsible for not violating the First Amendment when considering the books on the list and that it was incumbent upon his organization to keep abreast of the list, as well as the policies that informed it.
“We plan to do that,” he said.
Even where the book is not banned by prisons, inmates across the country have had trouble getting access to “The New Jim Crow,” which charts the way that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected black people, sending black men in particular to prison at a much higher rate than white men. The term “Jim Crow,” named for a racist theater character, refers to discriminatory laws aimed at black people after the Civil War through the first half of the 20th century.
It remains prohibited statewide by the Florida Department of Corrections. But that may soon change. Florida’s A.C.L.U. affiliate said Wednesday that it was in touch with the state’s corrections department about the book. It has asked for the ban to be lifted on First Amendment grounds and awaits a formal reply, said Gaby Guadalupe, a spokeswoman.
The Florida corrections department confirmed Wednesday that its representatives had met with the A.C.L.U. and that officials were “reviewing the book to ensure the status of the publication is appropriate.”