'Violent, deviant sexual acts:' Prison records show why inmates are denied books
Getting books to the nearly 37,000 inmates in North Carolina's 61 state prisons can be a complicated process. Prison staff and a five-member review committee inspect the publications to catch contraband and prohibited content, such as pornography and violent material. By law, prison staff can deny publications to prisoners for 17 different reasons.Posted — Updated
When inmates are denied reading material, they can appeal to a five-member panel – the Publication Review Committee – which has the final say. Last year, the committee rejected more than 600 books, magazines and other publications.
WRAL News filed a public records request to get a list of the rejected publications, authors and reasons why they were denied. Many of the banned items included sexual references or nude photos, according to the reviewers' comments:
- Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" has a picture of a woman's exposed breasts
- "Bound in Moonlight" describes violent, deviant sexual acts
- American Curves magazine has a picture of a female breast covered by liquid
- I'Adore Magazine details sexual activity between an inmate and an officer
- Asis magazine has a picture of a dismembered penis and details sexual activities with animals
Other books and magazines were denied for different reasons, according to the reviewers' comments:
- "Tryptamine Palace" depicts how to make illegal drugs from toad venom
- "Body Language 101" has material that could be used to intimidate staff
- Field & Stream Hunting Guide provides information how to silently stalk a victim
- "The Colored Pencil Artist's Drawing Bible" is bound together by metal wire
- "Football's Greatest," by Sports Illustrated, is an oversize book
- Popular Science magazine instructs how to turn a match into a rocket
- Maxim magazine details how to extract intoxicants from a whipped cream can
- Pink and Black magazine promotes the rejection of Caucasian people
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"I believe (North Carolina prisons) are doing a fairly good job on the whole," she said. "The ability to have books in prison is really important. It's also important in terms of rehabilitation and being a productive person as far as doing time."
"We’ve had on-site classroom courses offered at different correctional facilities going all the way back to 1975. We’ve never run into a problem on a textbook being turned down," Oettinger said. "We actually have had four (prisoners) who went from having no college credits when they began our program in the correctional system to, ultimately after getting out of prison, getting PhDs."
Publisher: 'If we have a problem, we appeal it'
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- Love, Bo
"If we have a problem, we appeal it," Miller told WRAL News. "So far, at least, we have found (North Carolina prisons) to be very reasonable."
"Our books are all about taking personal responsibility for your life," Miller said. "We challenge people to calm down and use some classic spiritual practices."
UNC student: 'Their most requested book is the dictionary'
A book's subject material is not the only thing prison staff take into consideration when deciding whether to allow or deny a book. The size of a book can be a problem, too, according to Department of Public Safety spokesman Keith Acree.
"The prohibition on large hardback books was a result of inmates using large, heavy books to assault others," Acree wrote in an email to WRAL News.
A WRAL reporter asked to speak with a member of the Prison Books Collective and observe one of the group's book collections for prisoners, but a spokeswoman said the group was not interested in participating in the story.
"We came out, we did video interviews," Hoffman said. "They have thousands of books. They get them donated. They get books from organizations ... Their most requested book is the dictionary."
Hoffman says he watched the group's volunteers sit around tables one Sunday, reading through prisoners' letters and talking about "the entire spectrum of social issues."
"I was happy to see people putting their time into help, into addressing this issue," he said. "People that are incarcerated are largely not trying to waste away their time within prison. They need opportunities to educate themselves, to develop skills, to maybe even get college credit, which a number of them do. They can't do that without resources. There's this mindset that anybody that's in prison is a lost cause, but that's not going to help anything at all."
Hoffman says he and others in UNC's Students of the World group hope to "draw attention to groups that are doing good work." In the meantime, he hopes his book donation, "American Gods," is delivered to a prisoner and brings that person some peace.
"I hope that they enjoy it. I hope that they find some comfort in reading the story about someone who is struggling as well," he said.
So far, Hoffman's book has not appeared on the rejected list, according to Department of Public Safety officials.
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