It’s a violation of freedom of religion, obviously. (Jewish and Muslim prisoners were blocked from receiving their holy books.) But beyond that, isn’t it a damaging and cruel form of punishment to prevent inmates from reading books, newspapers, magazines, letters, and other printed material of any kind for years upon years? The Christian Science Monitor reports on rehabilitation, South Carolina-style:
The US Justice Department is asking a federal judge in South Carolina to allow it to intervene in a lawsuit against a sheriff who allegedly forbids prisoners in his jail from receiving books, magazines, or printed materials other than copies of the King James version of the Bible.
Berkeley County Sheriff H. Wayne DeWitt denies that restrictions imposed at the county lockup in Moncks Corner, S.C., rise to the level of a constitutional violation or violate US law.
A Jewish prisoner seeking a Torah said he was told by jail officials that the prison only provides Bibles. Two Muslim prisoners seeking copies of the Koran were told the same thing, according to the complaint. The Justice Department complaint says the jail’s practices violate the First Amendment and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, praised the Justice Department for taking action against the jail. “The fact that the Justice Department has chosen to intervene in this case should send a clear signal to jail officials that systematically denying detainees access to books, magazines, and newspapers is unconstitutional,” he said. “The policy in place at the Berkeley County Detention Center is nothing short of censorship, and there is no justification for shutting detainees off from the outside world in such a draconian way.”