What You Can and Can’t Read in Connecticut State Prisons

From “Game of Thrones” to the Koran, it’s not too easy to know what you can get away with.

National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Aug. 30, 2013, 5:10 a.m.

If you’re spend­ing your days in the Con­necti­c­ut pris­on sys­tem, you’re in some luck. As of this month, you’ll now be able to read the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Mar­tin, made phe­nom­en­ally pop­u­lar by HBO’s Game of Thrones.

But it’s not quite that simple. A new list of ap­proved, banned, and “un­der con­sid­er­a­tion” pub­lic­a­tions from an Aug. 6 meet­ing of the Con­necti­c­ut Bur­eau of Cor­rec­tions’ Me­dia Re­view Board shows how dif­fi­cult it can be to get some read­ing done. And that goes well bey­ond Game of Thrones.

Not even all of A Song of Ice and Fire is safe. Ac­cord­ing to the bur­eau, the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, was un­til re­cently banned for “safety and se­cur­ity” reas­ons. That book was lis­ted as barred fol­low­ing the Aug. 6 meet­ing, but Kar­en Mar­tucci, the bur­eau’s act­ing dir­ect­or of ex­tern­al af­fairs, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the book has since been ap­proved fol­low­ing an ap­peal. We do, however, feel for the in­mate(s) who read A Clash of Kings or A Storm of Swords without first get­ting to read A Game of Thrones. That sounds be­wil­der­ing.

The most re­cent book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, doesn’t have a clear status, likely be­cause it has not yet been re­ques­ted by a pris­on­er, Mar­tucci tells Na­tion­al Journ­al

So what’s the lo­gic be­hind hold­ing up one book in a series full of sex, be­head­ings, and tor­ture? The bur­eau doesn’t make that totally clear. And a glance at oth­er banned items on the list doesn’t help to re­veal much un­der­ly­ing sense.

The Ju­ly 22, 2013 is­sue of The New York­er is cur­rently not al­lowed in­to Con­necti­c­ut state pris­ons. While no spe­cif­ic reas­on for the ban aside from “safety and se­cur­ity” is giv­en by the bur­eau, that magazine does con­tain a piece by Rachel Louise Snyder on do­mest­ic ab­use. The story’s lede: “Dorothy Gi­unta-Cot­ter knew that someday her hus­band, Wil­li­am, would kill her.”

But it’s not just ob­vi­ous vi­ol­ence. Nine is­sues of The Co­ali­tion for Pris­on­ers Rights were not al­lowed as of the Aug. 6 meet­ing. And, for some reas­on, Septem­ber’s Slam Magazine, with LeBron James on the cov­er, was barred for “safety and se­cur­ity.”

And there are three pages of the Aug. 5, 2013 is­sue of Time Magazine that the bur­eau asks to be re­moved be­fore the magazine is al­lowed in­to pris­on. 

The bur­eau, since June 2012, has banned por­no­graphy from its pris­ons. So some re­quests from the Aug. 6 meet­ing, like the Spring 2013 Phat Puffs and Smooth Girl #30, have a “sexu­ally ex­pli­cit” tag. But so does Au­gust’s GQ and a re­cent is­sue of New York magazine.

The most in­ter­est­ing pub­lic­a­tion that is some­what dif­fi­cult to ac­cess in Con­necti­c­ut pris­ons is one of the world’s old­est: the Kor­an. The Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the Kor­an by Ab­dul­lah Yusuf Ali was lis­ted as “un­der re­view” after the Aug. 6 meet­ing, but Mar­tucci tells Na­tion­al Journ­al that an­oth­er of Yusuf Ali’s texts, The Mean­ing of the Holy Qur’an, is now “the ver­sion [of the Kor­an] that is cur­rently al­lowed” in the state’s pris­ons.

Act­ing Dir­ect­or Mar­tucci says in an e-mail that the agency is “re­view­ing our cur­rent prac­tice sur­round­ing pub­lic­a­tion re­view and mak­ing changes, as ap­pro­pri­ate, to en­sure we have a sound policy.” An ad­viser to Gov. Dan­nel Mal­loy said that “the pro­cess has to be ad­jus­ted,” fol­low­ing a mini-scan­dal earli­er this month over the avail­ab­il­ity of Wally Lamb’s best-selling She’s Come Un­done in the state’s pris­ons (and at the York Cor­rec­tion­al In­sti­tu­tion in par­tic­u­lar).

Even with the free­ing of A Game of Thrones, it ap­pears that more work has to be done to en­sure that the state’s pris­on book-mon­it­or­ing pro­cess doesn’t just look like ar­bit­rary cen­sor­ship. 

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