By Steve Neavling
New Jersey corrections officials, under fire from the ACLU, announced Monday that a best-selling book about racial bias in mass incarceration would no longer be banned from two prisons.
The decision came just hours after the ACLU criticized the ban as unconstitutional and an “ironic, misguided and harmful” example of censorship.
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” was banned by officials at the two prisons and was not a department-wide decision, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Corrections said.
“The ban on ‘The New Jim Crow,’ which had been in effect in certain New Jersey Department of Corrections facilities, has been lifted in all facilities,” Weiss said.
It was an odd decision to ban the book because it was used by the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education Program, which enables inmates to enroll in college-level classes.
The ban was lifted because “officials determined that the book should not have been banned, as evidenced by the fact that it is being utilized as a teaching tool for NJ-STEP students,” Matthew Schuman, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections, said.
The book, released in 2010, exposes a criminal justice system that has served as a modern version of the Jim Crow laws because a disportioncate number of black people are incarcerated, often with longer sentences than white people who commit the same crime.
The ban was especially infuriating because a study of incarceration trends discovered that New Jersey had the nation’s largest disparity between incarcerated black people and white people.
“For the state burdened with this systemic injustice to prohibit prisoners from reading a book about race and mass incarceration is grossly ironic, misguided, and harmful,” ACLU lawyers wrote in the letter. “It is also unconstitutional.”