On Monday, the ACLU is sending a letter to the head of New Jersey’s prison system, demanding that some state prisons lift their ban on inmates reading The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s award-winning book that details how the War on Drugs and mass incarceration have devastated people of color.
This fact came to light after the ACLU issued a public records request which revealed that New Jersey State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility both banned the book as a matter of policy.
The ACLU’s letter holds nothing back, stating, “The New Jim Crow chronicles how people of color are shut out of society by mass incarceration. The DOC ban on The New Jim Crow shuts out New Jersey prisoners even further, and it does so unconstitutionally.”
The letter cites the fact that New Jersey has the biggest racial disparity in incarceration rates in the country, locking up black people at a rate 12 times higher than white people; the Latinx to white racial disparity is 2.19 to 1.
“The New Jim Crow chronicles how people of color are shut out of society by mass incarceration,” the letter reads. “That the very prisoners who experience the worst racial disparity in incarceration in the country should be prohibited from reading a book whose precise purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity adds insult to injury.”
I have contacted the New Jersey Department of Corrections for comment and will update this post if I hear back.
Update, 1:43 PM: The New Jersey Department of Corrections responded saying they have lifted the ban in all facilities. Their full statement:
The ban on “The New Jim Crow,” which had been in effect in certain New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) facilities, has been lifted in all facilities. It should be noted that there was no department-wide ban on the book.
Significantly, “The New Jim Crow” is being utilized as a teaching tool in the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education Program (NJ-STEP), through which NJDOC inmates enroll in college-level courses while incarcerated.
The NJDOC’s policy regarding the availability of written materials to the inmate population is in accordance with the New Jersey Administrative Code 10A. The department’s policy, as well as all current lists of banned written materials, is under review for appropriate revisions.