In response to outcry from the ACLU, two New Jersey state prisons will no longer prohibit inmates from reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. After learning about the censorship of Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, the ACLU wrote a letter to the state’s Department of Corrections arguing that the ban was unconstitutional.
“The New Jim Crow chronicles how people of color are shut out of society by mass incarceration,” the ACLU wrote in the letter. “That the very prisoners who experience the worst racial disparity in incarceration in the country should be prohibited from reading a book whose precise purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity adds insult to injury.”
A few hours later, the DOC reported that it had lifted the ban. The reversal was not only a result of the backlash from the ACLU, but because the book is also used in a college enrollment program for inmates run by the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium, as pointed out by WNYC. "Officials determined that the book should not have been banned, as evidenced by the fact that it is being utilized as a teaching tool for NJ-STEP students,” New Jersey DOC spokesperson Matthew Schuman told the New York Times.
ACLU's public complaint about the ban highlighted New Jersey’s egregious over representation of black men in its state prisons. ACLU attorney Tess Borden, who helped draft the letter, pointed out New Jersey's 12 to 1 ratio of black inmates to white inmates—double the national average—when black men make up only 15 percent of the state’s overall population. The DOC said in a statement that it's currently reviewing changes in their banned materials policy, which includes allowing inmates to challenge bans on publications and books.