Prisons and Religious Censorship

On September 10 I noted a report in the New York Times saying that the Federal Bureau of Prisons was removing religious books from prison libraries and implementing a “Standardized Chapel Library.” On September 26 I noted that the Bureau was bowing to pressure, would return the removed books to the shelves, but had not decided if it would abandon the project completely.

Shortly after September 10 post, I wrote to the author of the NYT article, Laurie Goodstein, asking for more information–such as the list itself. She did not feel comfortable passing on the list she had (passed on to her by someone within the prison system, if I recall), and suggested I submit a Freedom of Information Act request to get it.

I did. It arrived today, in the form of a CD with 295 pages of information.  Wow. Sometimes the Federal government responds.

Contrary to the impression you might get from the initial reports, this is an impressive list. Consider it this way–what if every prison actually had this full bibliography (instead of the random assortment of donated books that most prisons might currently have)? The project might have started over concerns about certain Islamic literature, but it ended up as an attempt to have a well-stocked library in each prison of decent materials. I’d suggest they could still retain that goal, just involve a few more people in vetting the list. (And they should check the spelling of some names–e.g., “Subgenus.”)

See for yourself.

2 thoughts on “Prisons and Religious Censorship

  1. Many thanks for posting that list. I had suspected that the list would actually be pretty interesting — I have found that BOP chaplains are often rather sharp, and unlike California, have an independent reporting structure of their own. The Catholic list is rather decent, although a bit interesting in its strengths and weaknesses. (My first impression was that a fellow Camaldolese oblate was involved — two books about Bede Griffiths, the Philokalia, and lots of Merton sounds a bit like us.) other parts of the list where I have some familiarity, such as Buddhism, look fairly good as well.

    What I think caused some of the problem was the the “Christian” (read “Protestant”) library being IMO a little weak, combined with dismay at often good libraries being pulled without any review. What few outisde of prison ministry know is that the federal system is very good about supporting chaplaincy, with better staffing levels, and complete material support. At a facility I work with they have complete vestment sets (Slabbinck — somebody has good taste) and a surprisingly good library. I visited one smaller minimun security camp and found Kittel. Few state systems are as good.

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