April 19, 2018

ALA President Criticizes Bureau of Prisons, Just Before Policy Change Regarding Removal of Religion Books

By Norman Oder

LJ recently reported that librarians were mostly out of the loop regarding the removal of religion books from prison libraries, because those federal prison libraries are supervised by chaplains. Earlier this week American Library Association President Loriene Roy, joining a wide-ranging chorus, offered some professional criticism of the Bureau of Prisons. And the bureau has just responded by changing its policy, returning books not on an approved list to chapel libraries.

While the bureau may still create a list of approved books, a bureau spokesperson told the New York Times, the materials will remain in the libraries. The Times quoted a bureau email: “In response to concerns expressed by members of several religious communities, the Bureau of Prisons has decided to alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project.”

ALA statement

Roy had made her remarks on Tuesday. “We are outraged to learn that the Bureau of Prisons is removing religious texts from prison chapel libraries based solely on whether or not the books are on a short list of ‘approved’ religious books,” she said in a statement. “A government agency should not have the right to determine what religious texts are ‘appropriate’ when our Constitution promises not only freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion. Moreover, it is illogical that the Bureau of Prisons is removing the very resources that may help incarcerated persons change their lives for the better.  The idea that removing religious books will create better citizens is ridiculous, and goes against the democratic fiber of our society.”

“While we understand the need for prisons to maintain a safe environment and prevent terrorism, the problems addressed by the Bureau of Prison’s policy are better solved by evaluating and restricting a particular resource, instead of denying prisoners access to a broad range of books they want and need.”