Veronica Fowler, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Iowa, says limiting inmates’ access only to books they buy themselves from state-approved vendors undermines their rights to freedom of expression.
“The freedom to read is so closely linked to the freedom of thought and the freedom to learn,” Fowler says, “and no matter what your position is in our society, we should not be limiting that, within reason.”
For people serving time, books have long been a means of education and connection, a way to understand themselves and the outside world. James Tager is the research director at PEN America, a literature and human rights advocacy group.
“All of this is fundamental to the human experience, which is to say it’s fundamental to human dignity,” Tager says. “That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about access to literature. And that’s what is affected by this provision that seems to dramatically restrict access to literature for incarcerated Iowans.”
The new policy also appears to cut off access to nonprofits which are dedicated to sending books to inmates. Loved ones say the change will result in significant cost increases that for some will be prohibitive.
The Department of Corrections says the policy is needed due to an increase in contraband entering the prisons with books. Similar bans in other states have prompted legal challenges and public outcry.
(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio)