For those doing time in prison, books and magazines can be a refuge, a civilizing influence and a source of skills that might help make them employable citizens when they get out. To those who run the prisons, the wrong books and magazines can seem a source of disorder and danger.
It’s not hard to imagine why prison officials would deny an inmate a copy of How to Beat Up Anybody. Or The Soldier of Fortune Guide to How to Disappear and Never be Found. And surely the inmate who sent away for The CIA Lockpicking Manual knew he was pressing his luck.
But it’s less obvious why the authorities would ban The 4-Hour Chef, The Illustrated Bible, and The Big Book of Solitaire.
We can now supply some insight, thanks to a trove of documents extracted from the Arizona state prison system by the American Civil Liberties Union. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, list hundreds of books and magazines, including all of the aforementioned titles, that were sent to Arizona inmates between July 2012 and October 2014. The documents reveal which publications were “allowed,” which were “excluded”—and, most intriguingly, why.
So how do prison censors draw the line between a good book and a bad influence? Below are 20 titles that were requested by Arizona inmates.
Were they allowed or excluded? Click on your choice to see the verdict of the censors, along with the explanations given for those that were prohibited.