In the preface to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, her bestselling book that examines how racial injustice fuels the epidemic of mass incarceration in the United States, Michelle Alexander writes, “I am writing this book for all those trapped within America’s latest caste system."
But in North Carolina, those trapped in that system are not allowed to read what Alexander wrote for them. The book is on the state’s list of publications that are banned in North Carolina prisons.
Black people make up less than a quarter of the state’s population yet represent more than half of the state’s prison population.
For a state with such stark racial disparities in its criminal justice system to keep a book about racial injustice away from those incarcerated is shameful, wrong, and unconstitutional.
That’s why we are demanding that North Carolina officials immediately lift the ban on The New Jim Crow in state prisons.
People do not lose their First Amendment rights while they are incarcerated. And banning this book in particular is cruelly ironic given the critical role it plays to understanding the pervasive racial injustice behind our epidemic of mass incarceration, and how our criminal justice system targets communities of color and is, in Alexander’s words, “a well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”
Earlier this month, the New Jersey prison system lifted a similar ban on The New Jim Crow after advocacy from our colleagues at the ACLU of New Jersey. We will fight until the same is done in North Carolina.
Update: The North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced on January 23 that it will remove The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness from the list of books banned in state prisons. The announcement came one day after we sent officials a letter demanding that they immediately rescind the ban and review the entire list of banned publications. We appreciate the prompt response and are glad that officials have agreed to review the entire list of banned books, as they should. We will continue to safeguard the First Amendment rights of people incarcerated in North Carolina.