Nov 2, 2023 - News

Pennsylvania prisons ban fewer books than other states

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Pennsylvania prisons have banned more than 250 books over the last decade — still a small number compared with states like Texas and Florida.

Why it matters: A recent report from PEN America found that "single state prison systems censor more books than all schools and libraries combined."

  • The report, based on open record requests, reveals some of the tactics prisons employ to censor titles, Axios' Shauneen Miranda reports.

Between the lines: The most banned book category includes those deemed sexually explicit, a classification used to ban books on medicine and art and some popular magazines.

What they're saying: "Prison censorship just absolutely dwarfs any other kind of censorship in our culture," Moira Marquis, senior manager of PEN America's Freewrite Project, told Axios. "It doesn't only target specific content or titles. It's really aimed at the medium of the written word itself."

Yes, but: Due to a lack of documentation across states and at the federal level, PEN America says the "true extent of carceral censorship is likely exponentially greater" than the reported figures.

Zoom in: Only six states banned fewer books in prisons than Pennsylvania, including Colorado and Montana.

  • Vermont banned the fewest books, with just nine.

By the numbers: Compare that with Florida, which censored about 22,000 books — the most titles of any state.

  • Texas and Kansas had the second- and third-most banned titles.

Of note: Only 28 states keep an official record of the specific titles they ban.

  • Pennsylvania is one of three states that eliminates its banned-book lists and starts fresh each year, per the report.

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