BENTONVILLE – The ACLU of Arkansas today demanded that the Benton County Sheriff restore access to reading material, asserting the sheriff’s book ban violates the First Amendment rights of incarcerated people. As reported by the Eagle Observer, Benton County jailers have been denying all reading material to incarcerated people, with the exception of the Bible and other religious material, under a strict new policy instituted last fall.
“Incarcerated people have a right to access books and other information, which provide a lifeline to the outside world,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The Benton County jail’s book ban is cruel, unnecessary, and counterproductive – hindering the rehabilitation and constitutional rights of the people detained there. Contrary to statements made by the sheriff’s office, access to reading material is not a ‘privilege,’ it is a right protected by the First Amendment and affirmed by the courts. This book ban must be lifted immediately.”
Courts have affirmed that the First Amendment protects incarcerated people’s access to information, including books and other reading material. In addition, by allowing incarcerated people to read the Bible and religious texts, but not other material, prison officials are engaging in content-based censorship, which is only lawful if it can be shown to have a legitimate security purpose.