CHICAGO – State Rep. Yolonda Morris, D-Chicago, is defending the freedom to read with her first bill ensuring incarcerated individuals are not unfairly denied access to books.
“The freedom to access information and express ideas was enshrined in our nation’s constitution from the start, and I believe that blanket book bans are plainly un-American and unconstitutional,” said Morris. “While some texts that promote hate and violence are rightly banned, what we often see are bans on books that challenge systems of power and critique the justice system.”
Morris recently filed House Bill 4576, which would require facility officials to review and approve bans with the help of a librarian. Under the bill, a book would have to present a clear danger to the facility in order to be banned. Under this definition, text that provides instructions on how to make explosives and other weapons could be banned, but text that gives an account of a peaceful protest would not be banned. Incarcerated individuals will also have the right to get bans overturned by petitioning the facility director or another designated staff member.
“People in our corrections system are still a part of our community. They are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and they should have access to the same material that those on the outside take for granted,” said Morris. “Helping our brothers and sisters behind bars wake up and do better through the power of reading is one of the best tools for keeping them from returning to the system. Instead of banning books without good reason, our institutions should be doing the opposite.”