The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling on the Arizona Department of Corrections to lift its ban on Paul Butler’s book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”
According to the ACLU, it had recently come to to the organization’s attention that Butler’s book was prohibited inside correctional facilities across the state. Butler is a Black professor at Georgetown University Law Center who teaches about criminal law and race and the law.
In calling for the ban to be lifted, the ACLU noted that the restriction constituted a violation of First Amendment rights — rights inmates retain despite incarceration.
In addressing prisoners’ First Amendment rights, the ACLU’s Emerson Skyes and co-author of a letter to the Arizona Department of Corrections noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s view that, despite incarceration, prisoners have a right to the protections outlined in the Constitution.
The letter goes on state that, “further ‘the First Amendment protects the flow of information to prisoners.’”
The ACLU further slammed the banning of this particular book — as opposed to a ban on hardcover books or other books — as representing a form of “content-based censorship.”
“The very people who experience extreme racial disparity in incarceration cannot be prohibited from reading this book whose purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity,” read the letter sent by the ACLU to the department of corrections.
While some content can be banned under First Amendment protections, the department of corrections would need to show how the book poses an explicit danger to the safety and security of the facility.
“Chokehold” blends narrative, history and data to examine how long-standing stereotypes have prejudiced the American policing and justice system and resulted in the mass incarceration of Black men.
This is not the first time a similar-style book has been banned by a correctional facility.
In January 2018, a New Jersey-based correctional facility banned “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander.
The ban was later lifted, following a strongly worded letter sent to the correctional facility by the ACLU.