At aprison in Danville, Illinois, officials have ended a prisoner education program and purged more than 200 books from the program's library. Their explanation: too many of the books had "racial" content and the program put too much emphasis on things like "diversity and inclusion."
That's according to documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune after a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the Tribune, the Education Justice Project (EJP) has been offering seminars and for-credit courses at Danville Correctional Center through the University of Illinois. Typically, that's covered courses from calculus to "Intro to Critical Race Theory in Education." But now under new leadership, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has begun to more aggressively review EJP's course materials as well as the books kept in the program's library (which is separate from the main prison library).
Prison book bans are nothing new. Early last year, news came out that prisons in multiple states had banned Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, a critical examination of the U.S. criminal justice system. The state of North Carolina explicitly banned it on the grounds that it was "likely to provoke confrontation between racial groups." (The ban was lifted after public outcry.) Texas has banned more than 10,000 books, including Memoirs of a Geisha and Alice Walker's The Color Purple. But as the New York Times reports, the state of Texas didn't see fit to ban books like Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf or the writings of former Ku Klux Klan leader and famed white nationalist David Duke.
In May of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union called the Arizona Department of Corrections's decision to ban Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler "fundamentally flawed," adding, "it is unconstitutional to censure a book that educates prisoners on how legal, penal, and other institutions have shaped their own lives and poses no threat to the safety and security of the facility."
The Chicago Tribune found that the IDOC was similarly barring contemporary books on systemic racism, like The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, published in 2017. But they were also banning long-standing American classics, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, and slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass's autobiography, all from the 1800s. The issue started when officials Danville Correctional Center found that many of the books EJP was planning to use in coming courses "contained numerous racial issues," according to an internal memo, and that prompted a review of the program's library and additional materials. That memo also noted that the EJP handbook "contained an entire section about Diversity and Inclusion ... which is an issue that is currently under investigation." One prison official reportedly called the books "divisive."
At a hearing on the dispute, IDOC acting director Rob Jeffreys told lawmakers, leaning heavily on passive voice, "We acknowledge this situation could have been handled differently."
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Originally Appeared on GQ