ACLU says ‘The New Jim Crow’ prison ban is unconstitutional

Civil rights group pushes back against New Jersey prisons blocking inmates from reading award-winning book

(Photo: The New Press and Fotolia/Skyward Kick Prod.)

Two New Jersey prisons have banned Michelle Alexander’s book on mass incarceration, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and the ACLU isn’t having it.

The ACLU of New Jersey sent a letter to Commissioner Gary Lanigan of New Jersey’s Department of Corrections. The civil rights organization received several complaints from inmates and their families about the book ban.

After filing an Open Public Records Act request, the ACLU learned that the state prisons banned the book “as a matter of policy.”

That policy that, they said, violates the Constitution.

“The ban on ‘The New Jim Crow’ violates the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the correlative protection of Article 1, paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution,” ACLU attorneys Tess Borden and Alexander Shalom wrote.

(Photo: The New Press)

Intense irony

The fact of the matter is that “The New Jim Crow” was written specifically for and about incarcerated individuals. So, banning them from reading the book is ironic at the deepest level.

“Michelle Alexander’s book chronicles how people of color are not just locked in, but locked out of civic life, and New Jersey has exiled them even further by banning this text specifically for them,” said Amol Sinha, the executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, in a statement.

“The ratios and percentages of mass incarceration play out in terms of human lives. Keeping a book that examines a national tragedy out of the hands of the people mired within it adds insult to injury.”

This is particularly concerning because New Jersey has led the nation in racial disparity fo incarcerated individuals. Black people are incarcerated at a rate of five-to-one compared to white people. What’s more, they make up 60 percent of the prison population.