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Ban at Alabama prison on Pulitzer-Prize winning book about post-slavery South challenged in federal lawsuit
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Birmingham News
A federal lawsuit contends officials at Alabama's Kilby Correctional Facility wrongly banned an inmate from receiving a Pulitzer-Prize winning book about the Southern legal system's treatment of blacks in the decades after the Civil War.
The suit, filed in the Montgomery last week by the Equal Justice Initiative, contends prison officials mischaracterized as a security threat the book "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II."
When inmate Mark Melvin was mailed a copy of the book in 2010, prison officials ruled it violated policy prohibiting material that incites violence, including racial violence, the lawsuit said. Melvin unsuccessfully argued to the prison's captain, deputy warden and warden that the book was a work of history that he should be allowed to read, the suit said.
The book, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and 2008 American Book Award, traces how laws passed in the post-slavery South were used to create a new work pool of forced-labor inmates, Stevenson said.
"The need for more informed thinking about race and discrimination is especially critical in prisons, which are disproportionately filled with people of color," Bryan Stevenson, director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, said in a statement. "Banning an award-winning book about racial history in the South is not only misguided, but it's injurious to anyone who is trying to advance our society on issues of race," Stevenson said.
The federal suit contends the prison officials violated Melvin's constitutional rights. It seeks an injunction to lift the book ban and block the policy used to prohibit it, as well as compensatory damages, lawyer fees and costs.
"We can't cope with the racial history of this country by banning books or preventing people from reading about it - even incarcerated people, who retain basic rights and protections that were violated in this case," Stevenson said in the statement.
Efforts were unsuccessful to immediately reach a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.
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