It’s one thing to restrict prison inmates access to certain reading materials. It’s another thing all together to restrict it to access only to the Bible. But that was the policy of one South Carolina jail, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The 16-page complaint alleges that officials at the Berkeley County jail in Moncks Corner is violating inmates constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of religion and right to due process by refusing them any reading materials other than soft black Bibles. Inmates are not allowed newspapers, magazines, or any other kind of book. The jail doesn’t have a library and officials have not backed away from the policy.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly journal on prison law distributed across the nation to prisoners, attorneys, judges, law libraries and other subscribers. The magazine provides information about legal issues such as court access, disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, prison and jail litigation, religious freedom, prison rape and the death penalty. Prison Legal News also distributes various books targeted at creating a better understanding of criminal justice policies and allowing prisoners to educate themselves in such areas as how to write a business letter and seek employment to health care in prison.
It’s not just that the policy is unconstitutional, it’s that if flies in the face of any effort at transitioning inmates for life outside of confinement. By not even giving folks a chance we’ve guaranteed that they remain on tax payer support, in some fashion, indefinitely.
It’s easy to forget that rehabilitation is an essential part of any functional criminal justice system and that rehabilitation at its core means self-sufficiency. Assisting inmates in finding employment and securing health care enables that kind of self-sufficiency and works towards the common goal of keeping citizens out of jail. It’s not a hand-out nor is it “rewarding” inmates for prior bad behavior. It’s just common sense.
photo courtesy of Valerie's Geneology Photo's via Flickr