How to Report on Banned Books in Prisons in Your State

How to Report on Banned Books in Prisons in Your State

The Marshall Project spent over a 12 months reporting on banned books in prisons, from a nationwide searchable table of banned book lists to Ohio’s confusing book screening process.

Use this reporting recipe to analyze the difficulty of banned books in prisons, whether or not you’re a journalist or a curious citizen.

Our work is barely potential due to engagement from folks near or affected by e book censorship in prisons. As you undergo this recipe, when you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations, please attain out to the banned e book staff through [email protected]. If you publish your findings, we might additionally take pleasure in listening to about it by this form.

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Know why the difficulty of banned books in prisons issues

Book bans are a hot-button subject, with controversies erupting in public colleges and libraries across the nation. But much more restricted studying environments exist all around the U.S. — in prisons and jails, the place incarcerated folks’s entry to books is already restricted.

About half the states’ corrections departments within the U.S. informed The Marshall Project they maintain jail e book ban lists, which comprise greater than 50,000 titles of books amenities don’t need incarcerated folks to learn. Sometimes books are banned as a result of the state believes they’re too violent, sexual or pose a safety menace.

This matter is one other glimpse into what occurs behind jail partitions, emphasizing challenges incarcerated folks face in accessing and holding onto books they might study from.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom masking legal justice within the United States, has printed a searchable database with banned e book lists from 19 states, together with Ohio, together with coverage summaries from over 30 states, and takeaways from their publication policy analysis.

See learn how to request e book ban data from state jail techniques

📝 Download a sample records request

Former Marshall Project reporter Keri Blakinger requested banned e book lists and publication insurance policies from state departments of correction throughout the United States, together with the federal system, to kick off our reporting on jail censorship.

She used two techniques to start out:

  • Directly contacting the state’s division of corrections’ Public Information Officer (PIO) and requesting steerage on submitting a request for the coverage and for the banned e book lists

  • Then, submitting every state’s equal of a Freedom of Information Act request

Blakinger recommends contacting the corrections division’s PIO to find out one of the best ways to form the knowledge request. In a couple of cases, the PIO despatched her the coverage and banned e book listing with out her needing to submit a proper request.

It shouldn’t be at all times apparent the place requests for information and paperwork ought to go. Some states had information portals, however they had been typically unclear and tough to navigate. In different instances, there was simply an e mail tackle particularly for requests.

Blakinger additionally recommends sending separate requests (one for the policy and one for the list) as a result of the coverage is usually simple to search out, and can be held up whereas the listing is tracked down and ready. She realized that there are typically two sorts of lists: a listing of books coming from exterior distributors or senders, and a listing of books banned from the jail library. You ought to specify which one you need in your request.

The lists typically comprise codes equivalent to the explanation for the ban. When you speak to the PIO, ask if that’s the case in your state and request a knowledge dictionary or key to decipher the codes. The format of the listing must be a CSV or an Excel doc, at any time when potential. Not a PDF. Those are sometimes laborious to parse and interpret.

There are states with no lists. These states should, nevertheless, doc the receipt and adjudication of every e book. So, one other path is to request the rejection paperwork themselves. Some states received’t flip them over as a result of they’re about particular incarcerated folks. Some will. These paperwork are likely to comprise essentially the most instructive details about the reasoning behind a rejection.

Get tricks to pitch tales and begin reporting

📝 Download a sample pitch

Policies pertaining to e book bans range by state — and might even range all the way down to the power stage.

We spoke with books-to-prison packages, people who find themselves previously incarcerated, jail librarians, librarians working on the nationwide and worldwide stage on problems with prisoner rights to info, and jail educators. Their proximity to the difficulty helped us determine native and nationwide traits, and perceive how fragmented and localized censorship is in jail.

Potential questions and angles:

  • Banned e book lists revealing contradictions or biases. For instance, the state would possibly permit “Mein Kampf,” however reject books about Black prisoner rights actions, like Ohio.

  • Are folks sending books to prisons experiencing complicated and unpredictable forms?

  • Does the state’s division of corrections maintain a banned e book listing? If not, what’s their system for monitoring rejected books? Is it determined on the facility stage? Does it result in unfair selections?

  • Are incarcerated folks or jail teaching programs having their books confiscated after the books are allowed into the amenities?

  • Are spiritual texts, like Wicca books, being rejected?

  • Are there any facility-level insurance policies that restrict the books an individual can possess that aren’t within the statewide coverage? For instance, a facility would possibly restrict the books an incarcerated particular person can possess to what matches inside a shoe cubby, although the state coverage specifies a amount.

  • What are the principles and procedures round censorship for incarcerated youth, girls, or different incarcerated populations, and do they differ from the inhabitants of grownup males in unintuitive methods?

  • Do e book insurance policies restrict academic alternatives for incarcerated folks that might help their reentry course of? For instance, coding books are banned in some states, limiting alternatives for employment in tech after launch.

  • How are non-English audio system accessing studying supplies, and the way does their expertise range from the English-speaking inhabitants?

  • Who is disproportionately affected by e book ban insurance policies? For instance, are bans associated to intercourse schooling hindering entry to details about reproductive well being for incarcerated girls or LGBTQ+ folks?

  • Have there been adjustments to coverage that make it tougher for family members or books-to-prison packages to ship books to folks on the within?

  • Are there mailroom points like mail scanning and staffing that trigger issues for e book senders, particularly as some states grapple with a staffing crisis?

We put collectively a pitch template that will help you get a dialog began together with your editor. You ought to personalize it in your newsroom as a lot as you want.

Download and perceive the info

We presently have banned e book lists from 23 states, and printed 19 of them in our searchable database. You can download the lists from our Observable pocket book, which additionally comprises coverage summaries that we created utilizing ChatGPT-3.5 for 37 states. We clarify how we did that here.

The states with banned e book lists that we’re nonetheless engaged on publishing are: Louisiana, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington. If you’re in one in every of these states and need us to let you understand when we now have printed the info in your states, please e mail us at [email protected].

This video tutorial walks you thru learn how to obtain and discover the info utilizing Google Spreadsheets. It additionally describes among the limitations of the info.

Quick information to downloading and exploring the info:

  • To entry information for banned books in prisons, go to The Marshall Project’s homepage and seek for “Banned Books” utilizing the search button on the high proper of the web page.

  • Click on the story titled “The Books Banned in Your State’s Prisons.” Scroll down and discover the “Download the Data” hyperlink in purple.

  • This link will take you to an Observable Notebook with banned books lists from 19 particular person states and a mixed listing of all these states. Right-click on the specified dataset, choose “Download linked file as,” and put it aside to a knowledge folder or your desktop.

  • After downloading the dataset, open Google Sheets or your most popular software to discover the info.

  • If you employ Google Sheets, below the File menu, select “Import” to add the info.

  • Once the info populates, you may start exploring banned books in prisons.

Learn about editorial model and requirements about reporting on incarcerated folks

Media shops have outsized energy over the folks we cowl. That’s very true for incarcerated folks, who not often have the company or energy to form their very own narrative. As a frontrunner in masking the U.S. legal justice system, The Marshall Project presents steerage for characterizing people who find themselves in jail and jail.

If you might have used our work and need others to find out about it, please share a hyperlink or an instance with us utilizing this form.

Embed the searchable desk with my state’s banned books on my web site

Here is code that may be copied and pasted in most internet content material administration techniques to show the searchable desk of e book bans in your state:

If you don’t see your state, we’d nonetheless be processing or securing a listing. You can message us at [email protected] to substantiate.

You can even learn how to request book ban records from state prison systems.

Read social media language associated to this challenge

These examples present the best way we framed our reporting and the dialog that it sparked. We suggest that you simply use these posts as reference factors when crafting your personal viewers technique, moderately than copying the precise language, to finest interact and serve your particular audiences.

  • Instagram content — reminiscent of a Reel, two carousel posts (1, 2), and Stories — helped us attain a normal social viewers.

  • On Reddit, we posted in local-based and topics-based subreddits to spark dialog about our work. For instance, our post in r/bannedbooks was seen by a moderator, who then added our software to the subreddit’s resources page.

  • We additionally had success on different topic-specific websites, like HackerNews, the place programmers and other people desirous about tech reacted to our story about Ohio’s division of corrections banning coding books and the way that may negatively influence the reentry course of.

Contact the banned books staff

If you might have any suggestions, questions or recommendations, please attain out to the banned books staff through [email protected].


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