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The Cost of Reading in Prisons: Book Censorship and E-Reader Tablets in Carceral Institutions

With 2 million people incarcerated across the United States, one of the largest books bans takes place in prisons and jails across the country. The recent introduction of E-reader tablets belies access to literature and education materials through content restrictions, predatory pricing structures, and significant reductions in physical book reading materials for incarcerated readers. Join PEN America on March 16, 2022, as panelists discuss e-reader tablets and access to literature in carceral institutions. This one-hour event will discuss the challenges faced by books to prisoner programs, the right to read in prisons, and the controversy around tablet content and use.


headshot for Jodi LincolnJodi Lincoln has been involved with the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project, serving people incarcerated in Pennsylvania, since 2015. When Pennsylvania attempted a state-wide ban on physical books in prisons in 2018, Jodi helped organize the state-wide push back that successfully overturned that policy and began organizing against prison censorship around the country. As an ardent abolitionist based in Pittsburgh, she’s also a part of the Coalition Against Death by Incarceration and the PA Prison Society and works professionally as an Affordable Housing Developer.  

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headshot of Cynthia SimonsCynthia Simons is the Grant Me The Wisdom Foundation (GMTW) Women’s Fellow at the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. Her passion for civil rights and justice reform stems back to the age of 16, when she graduated from high school and attended the University of Texas at San Antonio. That passion has since been fueled by a firsthand view of the justice system: As a formerly incarcerated woman, Cynthia hopes to protect women’s rights and ensure that women have access to resources and rehabilitative services before, during, and after interactions with the justice system. This includes the critical need for strategies that promote family connection and reunification. At TCJE, Cynthia works to end mass incarceration and support women and families who have been impacted by the justice system; she coordinates the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition in support of trauma-informed programming and gender-responsive reforms.

headshot of Lawrence BartleyLawrence Bartley is the founder and director of “News Inside,” the print publication of The Marshall Project which is distributed in hundreds of prisons and jails throughout the United States. News Inside is the recipient of the 2020 Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media. He is also the host and executive producer of Inside Story, a new video series delivering trustworthy reporting to incarcerated people and the broader public. Lawrence was a member of the team behind “The Zo,” winner of the 2021 Edward R. Murrow Award for “Excellence and Innovation” and recipient of an Emmy nod in the area of News & Documentary. He is also an accomplished public speaker and has provided multimedia content for CNN, PBS, NBC Nightly -News, MSNBC and more.


Anthony Johnson headshotAnthony Johnson is the ACLS Leading Edge Fellow, Research and Advocacy Manager with PEN America. He currently manages initiatives on prison book bans and access to literature for incarcerated individuals. Anthony is a cultural anthropologist and urban ethnographer. Johnson holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center, and a master’s in African-American Studies from Columbia University. He is an experienced qualitative researcher and educator. Johnson has carried out ethnographic research in South Africa and New York City. He has also taught university-level courses in urban anthropology, African-American Studies, and urban studies. He previously served in roles for non-profits engaging issues on urban innovation, Affirmative Action in Higher Education, and youth development. Johnson occasionally writes on African films and politics in South Africa, featured on Africa is a Country’s web platform.

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