Strange selection of books to ban in California prisons

Thursday, June 18, 2015
Strange selection of books to ban in California prisons
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"Fifty Shades of Grey" is apparently less dangerous than books on computer programming.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- "Fifty Shades of Grey" is apparently less dangerous than books on computer programming. That's the takeaway from a new list of censored publications at California prisons acquired via public records request by Action News.

A two-month 2013 hunger strike involving thousands of inmates at 24 California state prisons came just a year after riots that also indicated sophisticated levels of communication between inmates. Prison administrators believe some of it traveled through books, magazines and newsletters. Rules changed and a centralized list of disapproved publications was created.

It's 16 pages of censored publications inside California prisons. It includes a lot of what you might expect, like "200 Uncensored Sex Acts." That's considered pornography and you just can't have that inside prisons. What you can have, though, is descriptions of sex and violence. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is OK. So is "Game of Thrones." The "Game of Thrones" graphic novels, though, aren't OK because those actually include depictions of that sex and violence. There are also a few things you might not expect, like the "AAA Road Atlas: Travel with Someone You Trust." There's also "Windows 8: All-in-One for Dummies" - too dangerous for prison, but an Action News reporter checked it out at the Fresno County Library Wednesday.

"We've had instances where inmates have used those textbooks to hack into a state-owned computer and operate the Internet," said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Aside from porn and hackers, the new rules specifically target so-called "security threat groups," which they define as something approaching or equaling a gang. Advocates for prisoners hadn't seen the list until Action News got it through a public records request. But even with it, they say it's hard to tell who could be considered a security threat group, and what will be banned.

"That's what they write but what they so in practice is wide open to their own discretion on a day-to-day basis," said Penny Schoner of the Prison Activist Resource Center.

The editor of San Francisco Bay View, for example, tells us although her newsletter is not on the list, it's often banned, and she thinks it's political. Bay View is popular among prisoners, and its stories are often written by inmates complaining about solitary confinement or other issues. The list of disapproved publications could be their next complaint.

Click here to view entire list of disapproved publications