The Texas Civil Rights Project has released a fascinating, detailed report on the nearly 12,000 books banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from entering the state’s prison system. The arbitrary nature of the list, including Shakespeare’s sonnets and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Wistlestop Cafe, defies any security-based explanation. Check out the searchable Zoho spreadsheet to see if inmates have been barred from reading your favorite works.

Why should you care whether the prison population has access to books? For a start, they have a right to them. The Supreme Court has ruled prisoners must even be allowed materials espousing “inflammatory political, racial, religious or other views.” Additionally, reading provides clear educational and rehabilitative benefits that are even more important as many rehabilitation programs are threatened by budget cuts.

Books on civil rights refused from entering the prison system include:

  • History of Black America by Howard Lindsey
  • Politics of Rage: George Wallace and the Origins of New Conservatism by Dan T. Carter
  • Race: How Blacks and Whites Feel About the American Obsession by Studs Terkel
  • Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle
  • Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

And here are some rehabilitation books kept from prisoners:

  • Stopping Rape: A Challenge for Men by Rus Ervin Frank
  • Why Me? Help for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Even if They Are Adults Now by Lynn Daugherty
  • Men Who Rape by A. Nicholas Groth
  • Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood by Lenore Terr
  • Handbook of Clinical Intervention in Child Abuse by Suzanne Sgroi, M.D.

The TCRP report details how books will be banned for even the briefest sexually explicit passages, without regard to whether the context is clinical, artistic or educational. And yet, Guns Illustrated magazine is allowed! While an appeals process exists, many prisoners are not aware of how to use it and, since they often have never seen the book in question, cannot effectively argue why a decision to ban should be overturned.

With the publication of this list, at least senders of books to the incarcerated in Texas will know which works will never reach their intended audience. Hopefully the continued organizing around this issue will result in reforms for a more consistent and logical application of guidelines for prisoner access.