Banned: Book About Policing's Impact on Black Men Not Allowed in Arizona Prisons

by | May 23, 2019 AT 7:41 AM
A library inside a prison.
A library inside a prison. (AP/M. Spencer Green)

By David Boroff

A book that discusses the impact of the criminal justice system on black men has been banned from Arizona prisons.

"Chokehold: Policing Black Men," written by former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, takes a close look at mass incarceration with a focus on African American men.

Readers have raved about the 2017 book on Goodreads, with one person writing that the author "took me on an intellectual ride that I never saw coming." The reader added that "there is not one group of people, gender, race or creed who should not read this book!"

The Arizona Department of Corrections apparently disagrees. Butler said his publisher was notified by email earlier this year that his book had "unauthorized content" and included parts that were "detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility."

Butler told The Associated Press in an interview that he was baffled by the ban.

"I disavow violence because first, I think it's immoral, and second, because it wouldn't work," Butler said. "I've received letters from several inmates who have read 'Chokehold' while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading 'Chokehold' has caused any problems in prison."

The ACLU is asking prison officials to change their mind, claiming the decision is a form of censorship.

"In order for them to ban a book, they have to show the restriction is related to a legitimate prison interest," said ACLU lawyer Emerson Sykes. "There's no interest to keep inmates from learning about the criminal justice system and policing."

The corrections department found that black people made up 14% of the 42,000 inmates in the Arizona system as of October 2018. Arizona's population is about 5% black.

"One in 19 black men are in prison in Arizona right now," Butler said. "Rather than acknowledge it's a good thing that inmates want to read about and debate important public policy, Arizona pushes back against rehabilitation, against literacy, against the Constitution."

A Corrections spokesman said the department had not yet received the ACLU's letter.

With News Wire Services

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