NEW YORK–The recent removal of over 200 books from the Danville Correctional Center’s prison library in Illinois appears to indicate a troubling disregard for prisoners’ right to read, particularly in regard to books about or related to race, PEN America said today.

On May 29, Illinois Public Media reported that prison officials at the Danville Correctional Center, which imprisons approximately1,800 inmates, removed 202 books from the prison library run by the University of Illinois-affiliated Education Justice Project (EJP), after temporarily suspending the program. (A full list of the removed titles can be accessed here.)

Commentators have noted that the overwhelming majority of the removed books are about black history and contemporary racial issues, along with titles on incarceration and rehabilitation. Prison officials have claimed that the books did not previously go through their content-based review process, although the books entered the facility at different times and other titles entered at the same time were not removed. The Education Justice Project, run by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, created the inmate-run library in 2009 to compensate for the severe underfunding of libraries in the Illinois prison system.

In recent years, various state and federal prison systems have used broad content-based guidelines to ban huge numbers of books based on their substance, in addition to restricting or shutting down book deliveries entirely with the stated aim of blocking contraband from entering prisons. In the past two years alone, PEN America has joined others in decrying such policies in OhioNew YorkMaryland, and elsewhere. After public outcry, some of these policies have been rescinded or amended.

“The fact that these removed books deal primarily with contemporary racial issues is, unfortunately, not a surprise to us,” said James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy. “In our work pushing back against undue restrictions on prisoners’ right to read, we have consistently noted that books dealing with race—or even books written by African-American authors—are significantly more likely to fall afoul of these censorship strictures. We are troubled by these removals, and we urge the officials at Danville Correctional Center to re-examine and to reverse their decision.”

PEN America has long championed the restorative, rehabilitative, and transformative possibilities of the written word through programs including the Prison Writing Program, founded in 1971, and its recently-launched Writing for Justice Fellowship, which commissions writers to illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration. PEN America has also spoken out against the troubling advancement of both content-based and content-neutral book bans in prisons across the country.

CONTACT: PEN America media consultant Suzanne Trimel, [email protected]