If you go to prison in NJ, you’re not allowed to read these
During a battle to ensure a nonfiction book about mass incarceration is no longer banned from prisons in the Garden State, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey requested and received records from the state of the names of books or publications that are banned in any Department of Corrections facility.
ACLU-NJ shared those records with New Jersey 101.5, and you may be surprised to learn some of the titles that inmates are forbidden to read.
Described by the civil liberties group as a "photocopy data dump," the DOC records show banned-publications lists, for both books and magazines, are not consistent from prison to prison.
Here are some book titles we've spotted on more than one list:
- The 33 Strategies of War
- The 48 Laws of Power
- The Almighty Black Stone Nation
- The Art of Seduction
- How to Hustle & Win (Parts 1 and 2)
- In the Minds of Murderers
- Manipulation by Blood
- Running With the Devil
- What to Do When the S*** Hits the Fan
- The World's Most Evil Psychopaths
- Your Secrets Are My Business
Other titles that stand out:
- Cocaine Nation
- Crime Pays
- The Dirty Divorce (1, 2 and 3)
- Don't Mix the Bitter with the Sweet
- Killa Girls
- Merry F**kin' Xmas
- Murderville (1, 2 and 3)
- So You Call Yourself a Man
- Thug Life
At least two prisons have banned a book titled "How to Keep Your Kids Away From Gangs," by Al-Tariq Gumbs. According to Amazon, the book was written by an "ex gang-banger," considered the poster child for gang members in New Jersey, who is now trying to use his influence to keep kids off the wrong path.
The list of "current banned books" from Mid-State Correctional Facility features "Fifty Shades of Grey," but does not include the book's sequels. "A Game of Thrones" is banned at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center, which houses sex offenders.
The lists of banned magazines include a number of titles you may expect, such as High Times, Maxim, Playboy and Penthouse. But we've also noticed the ban of "Parents" magazine at one facility, and "Wine Spectacular" (likely "Wine Spectator") at another. "Field & Stream" is blocked at more than one prison, as well as tattoo magazines.
"My sense is that the Department of Corrections has not gone through each page of these publications with a fine-tooth comb," said Tess Borden, staff attorney for ACLU-NJ. "It looks like a haphazard list and I think it really is just that."
Because the Constitution requires an individualized assessment of each publication before an outright ban, Borden added, it doesn't make sense for certain magazine titles to be blocked, since the content changes each week or month.
If a magazine were devoted solely to lock-picking or bomb-making, for example, an overall ban would be justified, she said.
In a statement to New Jersey 101.5 in February, DOC said its policy on banned written materials, and the current lists, are under review for appropriate revisions.
Its policies were questioned when ACLU-NJ learned "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" was banned in at least two DOC facilities.
"For the state with the worst black-white racial disparities in incarceration to prevent its prisoners from reading about that very disparity and the history of that injustice just really added insult to injury," Borden said.
The group sent a letter to the commissioner of the DOC, and hours later, the book ban was lifted, Borden said.
DOC noted there was no department-wide ban on "The New Jim Crow," and it is being utilized as a teaching tool in a program that allows inmates to enroll in college-level courses while incarcerated.
More from New Jersey 101.5:
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.