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href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-illinois-prison-books-removed-inmate-education-20190815-6xlrmfwmovdxnbc3ohvsx6edgu-story.html">https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-illinois-prison-books-removed-inmate-education-20190815-6xlrmfwmovdxnbc3ohvsx6edgu-story.html</a></font>
        <h1 class="reader-title">‘It’s the racial stuff’: Illinois
          prison banned, removed books on black history and empowerment
          from inmate education program</h1>
        <div class="credits reader-credits">Peter Nickeas - August 15,
          2019<br>
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                      <p data-page="1">Officials at an Illinois prison
                        suspended an educational program for inmates,
                        launched two internal investigations and removed
                        200 books from a prison library because many had
                        “racial” content or addressed issues like
                        diversity and inclusion, according to records
                        obtained by the Tribune.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Danville Correctional Center officials also
                        prohibited for use in the University of Illinois
                        program several classic books of African
                        American history, including “The Souls of Black
                        Folk,” the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s
                        Cabin” and the memoir of former slave and
                        abolitionist Frederick Douglass.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Hundreds of pages of records released by the
                        Illinois Department of Corrections in response
                        to Freedom of Information Act requests paint the
                        clearest picture yet of the origins of the
                        dispute between IDOC and the Education Justice
                        Project. And while the department’s public
                        statements about the controversy emphasized that
                        the books had not been appropriately reviewed,
                        internal IDOC emails and other documents show
                        that the program was swiftly suspended and the
                        books removed after the race-related themes of
                        the some of the content were flagged. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Prison officials suspended the program and
                        removed books only after finding what were
                        described as “racially motivated cartoons” and
                        “other items of concern,” including a Movement
                        for Black Lives pamphlet on “Black Power,
                        Freedom & Justice,” along with excerpts from
                        a comic book that included sexually explicit
                        images, the records indicate.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>“We acknowledge this situation could have been
                        handled differently,” IDOC Acting Director Rob
                        Jeffreys told lawmakers at a hearing in July. He
                        said the situation prompted the department to
                        hire a volunteer coordinator and make “long
                        overdue” revisions to its review procedure. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The Education Justice Project teaches seminars
                        and for-credit courses to inmates at Danville
                        Correctional Center, with offerings ranging from
                        calculus to Intro to Critical Race Theory in
                        Education, and the group has its own space and
                        library at the prison. The program has operated
                        at Danville for a decade, but amid growing
                        tensions between EJP and prison officials, it
                        was suspended for weeks and the books withheld
                        by corrections officials for months before they
                        were returned to the prison in June, the records
                        show.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>IDOC did not answer questions about the
                        controversy from the Tribune or explain the
                        seeming discrepancy between its public
                        statements and the records. But some state
                        lawmakers also wanted answers following a report
                        by Illinois Newsroom, a downstate public media
                        collaboration, about the book removal, and three
                        legislative committees met jointly in July to
                        discuss the dispute.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>At that hearing in Chicago, Jeffreys didn’t
                        talk about why the books were removed — saying
                        he didn’t “want to hash into” it — and
                        attributed the dispute to a lack of “sound
                        process” and “much-needed policy oversight.” </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Jeffreys has only been director since Gov. J.B.
                        Pritzker appointed him in May and learned of the
                        controversy in his first week in the job,
                        according to his testimony. He told lawmakers
                        that books addressing the African American
                        experience are welcome in the prison system.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Lawmakers praised the program during the
                        hearing, and in follow-up interviews some said
                        they were satisfied that the new administration
                        will bring change.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>“There’s been pretty wholesale change at the
                        department and the new leadership has made clear
                        this is their intention, to dig in at every
                        level,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy,
                        D-Chicago, one of three committee chairs to
                        convene the July hearing. </p>
                    </div>
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                          <p><img alt="The Education Justice Project
                              runs a college-in-prison program for
                              inmates at Danville Correctional Center.
                              Prison officials recently removed from the
                              program's library or denied entry to more
                              than 200 books, including those shown
                              here, many dealing with race."
data-src="https://www.chicagotribune.com/resizer/C_bvyOSCaRRjuYO0ciHoFKH9LsM=/800x533/top/arc-anglerfish-arc2-prod-tronc.s3.amazonaws.com/public/OKQXN37INFEWTPGWX5LB3HEAUY.jpg"
src="https://www.chicagotribune.com/pb/resources/images/tinygif.gif"> </p>
                          <figcaption>
                            <p>The Education Justice Project runs a
                              college-in-prison program for inmates at
                              Danville Correctional Center. Prison
                              officials recently removed from the
                              program's library or denied entry to more
                              than 200 books, including those shown
                              here, many dealing with race. (Zbigniew
                              Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)</p>
                          </figcaption> </figure>
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                      <p> </p>
                      <h5> 'Huck Finn’ yes, ‘Slave Girl’ no</h5>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The flap between the U. of I. program and IDOC
                        officials started in November, when EJP began
                        the review process for the upcoming semester’s
                        books and course materials. That’s when a
                        corrections lieutenant told program officials
                        that the problem with the materials were that
                        they were “racial,” according to testimony by
                        EJP Director Rebecca Ginsburg. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The EJP library is separate from the prison
                        library, and it follows a separate review
                        process from reading materials sent to inmates
                        through the prison mailroom. But Ginsburg told
                        lawmakers the review policy has gone through
                        seven revisions over the past four years.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>In this case, records show, EJP submitted 25
                        books for approval. Of those, four were denied
                        outright, nine were allowed in for review but
                        then denied and 12 were approved. Among the
                        books not allowed in for review was “The Color
                        of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our
                        Government Segregated America.” Books denied
                        after review for the spring semester deal
                        largely with race and social issues, including
                        “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe and
                        “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by
                        Harriet Jacobs, both written in the 1800s.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The 12 books granted full approval included
                        general collections of American literature, “The
                        Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain,
                        “Notes on the State of Virginia and the
                        Declaration of Independence” and “Learning to
                        Program with Python,” a computer science book. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>In addition, three so-called course readers —
                        compilations of excerpts from various sources —
                        were approved for use but with some sections
                        removed, Ginsburg told legislators.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>“It was the first time we had been ever asked
                        to literally tear pages out of course
                        materials,” she said. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Around the time the course materials were
                        denied, prison officials found rule violations
                        connected to the program, the records show: A
                        printout of an email about “racial disparity
                        problems within the EJP program" was found in an
                        inmate’s cell, Ginsburg attempted to bring a
                        memory card into the prison and someone
                        attempted to mail photos of an EJP ceremony,
                        taken from Ginsburg’s Flickr account, to an
                        inmate. Ginsburg told investigators she was
                        simply bringing the memory card to the internal
                        affairs office, where she’s been allowed to
                        store it in the past. Investigators faulted her
                        for posting photos of EJP events, though she
                        said she had done so for years with no problems.
                      </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Those three events prompted the warden to open
                        an internal affairs investigation, documents
                        show. A summary included in the investigative
                        file found Ginsburg violated policy by posting
                        photos from within the prison without having
                        prison approval. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>That investigation was ongoing as EJP staff
                        members tried to bring materials into the prison
                        for the upcoming semester on Jan. 10, according
                        to records.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Despite a December memo from an assistant
                        warden to the prison’s main gate listing
                        materials “approved” to be brought in on Jan.
                        10, the same assistant warden then indicated the
                        materials needed to be screened again, saying
                        the December memo only allowed the materials in
                        for review, IDOC records show.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>EJP officials disputes that, noting that they
                        brought several copies of each book in for the
                        first day of the semester and that past reviews
                        were done prior to the new school term starting.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p data-page="2">Whatever the case, it was during
                        that review that prison officials said they
                        found readers “that contained numerous racial
                        issues,” including “cartoons that were racially
                        motivated," according to the documents. That
                        prompted officials to check other materials
                        already inside EJP’s resource room, where it was
                        discovered there were “several racially
                        motivated books, a book on the Hell’s Angels and
                        books of anime pornography,” according to an
                        email sent the following day by a corrections
                        lieutenant to the warden.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The memo also noted the EJP handbook “contained
                        an entire section about Diversity and Inclusion
                        ... which is an issue that is currently under
                        investigation.”</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The same day, Jan. 11, the warden notified
                        other corrections officials via email: “Due to
                        the events of the past few weeks we are
                        cancelling all EJP classes, meetings and events
                        until further notice.” </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Later that month, the warden also directed
                        staff members to remove from the EJP resource
                        room “any books/items of a controversial nature
                        to be reviewed further.” About 200 items were
                        removed, most of which had themes around race or
                        incarceration, including “Race Matters” by
                        Cornell West, “Colored People: A Memoir" by
                        Henry Louis Gates Jr. and “My Daddy Is in Jail,”
                        a children’s book.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>The records show that those who run the EJP
                        program and other University of Illinois
                        officials then spent the next several months
                        seeking answers about the books’ removal,
                        attempting to have them returned to EJP and then
                        be allowed to bring them back into the prison
                        for use in their classes. In late June, after
                        another review by prison officials, the books
                        were returned to the prison, IDOC documents
                        show.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>That decision was made after media inquiries
                        about the controversy. In a statement released
                        to the Tribune and other media outlets the same
                        month, a spokesperson would only say that the
                        books had not followed a review process. The
                        materials removed, the statement said, “had
                        entered Danville ... without being appropriately
                        reviewed.” The statement did not mention that
                        department officers were directed to find course
                        materials that were “controversial” or that what
                        they chose to remove dealt largely with race.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>But in addition to the references in the IDOC
                        documents to the racial nature of some of the
                        material, Ginsburg testified in front of
                        lawmakers that one prison official called the
                        books “divisive” and that another official, in
                        explaining why the books were problematic, told
                        one of her EJP colleagues: “It’s the racial
                        stuff.” </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>It’s not clear whether any other criteria were
                        given to correctional officers when they removed
                        the books; a spokesperson declined to answer
                        questions about the removal, or the discrepancy
                        between her initial statements and records
                        released by the agency. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Though the university program itself was
                        reinstated at the end of January, about three
                        weeks after it was suspended, the books that
                        were removed weren’t available for the program
                        to use.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Alan Mills, director of the Uptown People’s Law
                        Center, also testified at the July hearing,
                        saying it’s unclear why “divisive” material
                        should be of note. He said that because the term
                        is subjective, it wouldn’t meet the criteria for
                        censorship established in a U.S. Supreme Court
                        precedent.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>At the July hearing, lawmakers said they didn’t
                        want to have to use legislation to fix the
                        problem, instead hoping the new director can
                        implement a policy that would allow inmates
                        access to education without disruptions like
                        this.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>“The hearing really made it clear that we want
                        (the) state of Illinois to have a clear and fair
                        statewide policy that allows incarcerated
                        students to pursue their education and their
                        studies free from undue interference,” said
                        state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, chair of the
                        House Higher Education Committee. </p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>Jeffreys, the acting IDOC chief, told lawmakers
                        the department will “work through” the issue.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p data-role="intersectionobserver">“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. I believe
                        expanding educational and vocational
                        opportunities is a key to breaking the cycle of
                        incarceration for thousands of Illinois’
                        families,” he said.</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <p>“It’s not us against the programs. That program
                        is part of our fabric of how we run facilities,”
                        he said. “Programs are our No. 1 security
                        application. ... Because if you keep folks busy,
                        if you keep them programmed, challenge their
                        thinking to change their behavior, it makes for
                        a better run facility.”</p>
                    </div>
                    <div data-type="text">
                      <div>
                        <p><i><a class="moz-txt-link-abbreviated" href="mailto:pnickeas@chicagotribune.com">pnickeas@chicagotribune.com</a></i></p>
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                        <hr>
                        <p>Peter Nickeas is a general assignment
                          reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He joined
                          the Tribune in 2011 and covered violence for
                          the Tribune’s breaking news desk for seven
                          years. He was a 2018 fellow at the Dart Center
                          for Journalism and Trauma and a 2019 fellow at
                          the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at
                          Harvard.</p>
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    <div class="moz-signature">-- <br>
      Freedom Archives
      522 Valencia Street
      San Francisco, CA 94110
      415 863.9977
      <a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="https://freedomarchives.org/">https://freedomarchives.org/</a>
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