(New York, N.Y.) – On Wednesday, March 16th, PEN America will bring together a panel of activists and experts for a virtual conversation about the controversial use of e-reader tablets in prisons and along with it, the censorship of books. The event will include participants conversant in how these concerns are impacting incarcerated people in Texas, Pennsylvania, and the New York metropolitan area.

The discussion is open to the public. Sign up in advance to receive the Zoom link to the program: https://pen-america-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYpceCqqDsuHdZz9nBqcRgba-Ldo2RQSD1o 

Panelists will include Cynthia Simons of the Texas Center for Justice and Equity; Jodi Lincoln of the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project, and Lawrence Bartley, founder, and director of “News Inside,” a publication of the Marshall Project. 

Anthony Johnson, PEN America’s Research and Advocacy Manager for “The Right to Read in American Prisons” will moderate the panel, titled “Who’s Afraid of the Incarcerated Reader?”

Johnson, said: “Reading offers incarcerated readers the opportunity to learn about themselves, sustain their curiosity, and better understand the conditions that led to their incarceration. If anyone thinks that the battle over books in prison is about reading, they miss the point. It’s really about how the tentacles of punishment extend beyond prison gates. To restrict books tells incarcerated individuals that their sentence may be forever, that in fact, prisons offer no possibility of actual rehabilitation now before they are released.”

At a time when greater public scrutiny has examined the impact and consequences of mass incarceration on families and communities, prison advocates have expressed the need to prioritize the mental and physical health needs of incarcerated people. With 2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, restricting reading could have profound ramifications for the men and women cycled through the criminal legal system and their ability to access books as a key to an environment of learning and support.

Now is the time to propose smart and meaningful policies to protect the literary and educational needs of prisoners nationwide. 

PEN America’s previous work championing access to literature in prison includes its most recent report issued last month: Best Practice for E-Readers in Carceral Institutions and its 2019 report, Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban

PEN America also has the Prison and Justice Writing Program, which released the new book The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting A Writer’s Life in Prison (Haymarket Books), a collection of essays representing a road map for incarcerated people and their allies to have a thriving writing life behind bars.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, Communications and Media Consultant, STrimel@PEN.org