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Each September, Banned Books Week celebrates open access to books in our schools, libraries, and communities. We must defend our right to read as a fundamental liberty in this country and reject attempts to censor works on political, religious, or other grounds. This is core to PEN America’s mission.

Today, by far the most extensive book ban in America is happening in the prison system. More than 2.2 million individuals are affected, too often given substantially restricted access to books, legal materials, or even dictionaries.

The Cost of Reading in Prison

It is not just content that leads to book bans in prisons. With the stated aim of blocking ‘contraband’ from entering prisons, states as well as the federal prison system have attempted to dramatically restrict or entirely shut down book deliveries to incarcerated people. The federal prison system, which alone holds more than 177,000 people, rolled out a pilot program forcing those in prison to pay a 30 percent markup to buy books from authorized dealers. Other variations on book restriction policies have been attempted in New York, Maryland, Washington State, and Illinois. While many of these policies are reversed after public outcry, the trend of cutting off access to literature in the name of “security” continues.

Reading is a Right for All

Studies repeatedly show that allowing incarcerated people access to outside information and ideas reduces recidivism and is essential to a successful transition back into society. More broadly, the United States Supreme Court has consistently emphasized the importance of education, and we believe access to literature is fundamental to supporting the liberties that underpin our democracy.

Your Voice is Needed

Public outcry has an impact on policies banning books in prison, and yet, bans on books that discuss mass incarceration continue in prisons across the country. This is why we must shine much-needed light on the control of incarcerated people’s access to literature.

Join PEN America and our allies in telling Congress to act by signing our petition demanding Congress convene immediate hearings on book restriction practices in prisons.

Activation Toolkit

button to sign the banned books week petition

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button to plan an event for banned book week 2019

button to learn more about banned books week


PEN America Los Angeles Book Drive

As part of the Literature Locked Up campaign, PEN America Los Angeles and Skylight Books offer book lovers and free expression advocates the opportunity to purchase children’s books in Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole for migrant families served by the Jewish Family Service (JFS) Migrant Family Shelter/San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN). Children who arrive at the shelter have few things to give them comfort, and books can provide some relief from the harsh realities of their daily struggle. You can view the wish list and make a donation here »


PEN America Banned Books Week Activities Across the United States
Stay tuned for details about the following events. Don’t see an event in your city? Plan one!