There’s no library at South Carolina’s Berkeley County Jail and only one book that inmates may read—the Bible. But that’s not all. Inmates there are forbidden to read newspapers and magazines, to boot.
“Prisoners who are incarcerated for extended periods of time have been deprived of access to magazines, newspapers and books – other than the Bible – for months or even years on end,” stated the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of its lawsuit filed in October against the jail for violating inmates’ constitutional rights. On May 2, a federal judge permitted the U.S. Justice Department to join the ACLU’s lawsuit as well.
The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of a monthly periodical called Prison Legal News. Issues of the magazine and books, such as Protecting Your Health and Safety, which informs prisoners of their rights, have reportedly been returned to sender in recent years because of the jail’s Bible-only policy. Prison officials responded to the suit by claiming to have only banned reading materials containing staples and nudity, but the ACLU recently filed a new motion arguing that the detention center sells legal pads with staples in them. So, the issue isn’t about staples but about censorship, the ACLU posits.
"There is no justification for denying detainees access to periodicals and in the process cutting them off from the outside world,” ACLU attorney David Shapiro told British newspaper the Guardian.
Tell the officials of Berkeley County, S.C., to say no to censorship. Inmates should be allowed to read a variety of works to hone their literacy skills and be informed citizens once they return to society.
- Berkeley County Sheriff
- Berkeley County Council Chair, Supervisor
- Berkeley County Councilman
- Berkeley County Councilman
Robert O. Call
In 2008, a staffer at Berkeley County Detention Center reportedly sent an email explaining that copies of Prison Legal News had been returned to sender due to the prison’s policy of only permitting inmates to receive "soft back bibles in the mail directly from the publisher” and forbidding them to receive “magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books.” This indiscriminate ban on reading materials amounts to blanket censorship and should be reconsidered. Violating the constitutional rights of prisoners not only doesn’t serve them well but it doesn’t serve the general public well either.
To reduce the chance that prisoners will become repeat offenders, it’s in everyone’s best interest to allow inmates to develop their literacy and professional skills by reading a wide range of materials. As Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, put it:
“Helping prisoners rehabilitate themselves and maintain a connection to the outside world by reading books and magazines is a key part of what should be our larger and fiscally prudent objective of reducing the number of people we lock up by lowering recidivism rates."
The ACLU isn’t alone in this point of view. In early May, a federal judge allowed the U.S. Justice Department to join the ACLU’s lawsuit against Berkeley County Detention Center for violating the constitutional rights of prisoners. This development makes it all the more clear that the detention center needs to end its policy of censorship at once. Don’t continue to step on the constitutional rights of prisoners.
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