Associated Press, May 21, 2019
Arizona has banned prisoners from reading a book that discusses the impact of the criminal justice system on black men, drawing outcry from First Amendment advocates who say the move is censorship.
The American Civil Liberties Union called on the Arizona Department of Corrections this week to rescind the ban on “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.” The book by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, examines law enforcement and mass incarceration through its treatment of African American men.
Butler, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said his publisher was notified by email in March that his book had “unauthorized content.” The notice did not specify what led to the decision but warned that some aspect of the 2017 book was “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.”
Butler said he is mystified as to what raised alarm bells. He uses the title, which is a maneuver police have used to restrain a suspect by the neck, throughout the book as a metaphor for how society and law subjugate black men. Nowhere does Butler advocate violent or retaliatory behavior.
The agency is in a court battle over a similar case. Prison Legal News, a monthly journal, sued corrections officials in 2015 for refusing to deliver four issues in 2014. The publication said in court documents that there were descriptions of “non-salacious” sexual contact between jail guards and prisoners when talking about incidents where inmates were sexually harassed. The case is set for trial later this year.
Supporters say access to books for the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. can make all the difference for life outside the prison walls. More education decreases the likelihood of repeat offenses and can lead to better job prospects later, according to inmate advocates. They point to studies showing the literacy rates of incarcerated white, black and Hispanic people are significantly lower than their non-incarcerated counterparts.
Arizona’s population of 7.1 million is roughly 5% black, according to the U.S. census. As of October 2018, the corrections department found black people make up 14.5% of the 42,000 inmates in the Arizona system.