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South Carolina Prisoners Refused All Books but the Bible

The ACLU is suing a prison that is intentionally depriving its inmates of books.

A prison in South Carolina is taking heat for not allowing its prisoners to have reading materials that contain staples or "pictures of any level of nudity, including beachwear or underwear." The ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit against the Berkeley County detention center, says that the center's policy effectively eliminates most books and magazines from the inmates' literature options. The lawsuit also quotes an email from a Berkeley official to the Prison Legal News last year, which said, "[O]ur inmates are only allowed to receive soft-back Bibles in the mail directly from the publisher. They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books."

Berkeley is backpedaling now, saying the Bible isn't "the only" thing prisoners can read, but the ACLU isn't buying it. For one thing, the "no staples" rule only applies to books, not things like notebooks sold in the prison commissary. "Jail officials are looking for any excuse they can come up with to obscure the fact that they are unconstitutionally censoring materials sent to detainees," says Victoria Middleton, the executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. "In so doing they are failing to serve the detainees and the taxpayers of South Carolina. Helping prisoners rehabilitate themselves and maintain a connection to the outside world by reading books and magazines is a key part of what should be our larger and fiscally prudent objective of reducing the number of people we lock up by lowering recidivism rates."

We imagine the ACLU's point isn't that the Bible is not a valid piece of writing, but that there are many other important works worth having on hand. What's more, having only one holy book throughout the entire facility—that of Christianity—gives the lie to the idea that the prison regards religion impartially. Would it kill them to at least get a Koran or the Torah?

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