The Danville Correctional Center in Illinois banned books on Black history and Black empowerment, including The Souls of Black Folk, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the memoir of former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Officials at Danville have apologized and are promising to change their book review system, the Chicago Tribune reported. But they did not change their policies before some 200 books were taken from a prison library and banned for use in the education program.
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The books were about Black empowerment and Black history – incredibly important in a state prison system where three out of every four inmates are Black.
According to Illinois correction records the Tribune received under a Freedom of Information Act request, the dispute between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Education Justice Project (EJP) run by the University of Illinois went back months.
The Chicago Tribune reported that back in November 2018, the EJP gave the Danville Correctional Center that semester’s books and course materials. But a corrections lieutenant told the EJP that there was a problem with the materials – they were too “racial.”
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Most of the books were denied outright, but some were denied after a so-called review process. The other books banned were “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” and “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.”
The Danville Correctional Center has tried to backtrack. Illinois Department of Corrections Acting Director Rob Jeffreys, who just got the job in May, said things should have been handled better and that the state welcomed books about “the African-American experience.”
“While I’ve only been on this job a couple weeks, I can assure you this: I am committing to ensuring that rehabilitation programming is available to all men and women in our care,” Jeffreys told lawmakers during legislative hearings in July. “I believe expanding educational and vocational opportunities is a key to breaking the cycle of incarceration for thousands of Illinois’ families.”