These Prisoners Are Allowed One Book: The Bible

When you have to spend a few months or a few years in prison, one way to pass the time is to surround yourself with literature. (Activist Leslie Zukor learned about how atheist books were rarely found in prisons and began a freethought books to prisoners drive. It was incredible how many prisoners requested books from her.)

It seems that acquiring atheist books isn’t anywhere in the radar for the Berkeley County Detention Center in South Carolina, though. They’re far more strict about what prisoners are allowed to read (PDF).

The Detention Center has a policy and practice of allowing detainees to order from a publisher, and receive by mail, a soft-cover Bible – but no other books, magazines, or newspapers.

The Detention Center does not have a library to provide detainees access to reading materials.

The combination of the ban on incoming publications and the lack of a library means that detainees have no access to any sort of magazine, newspaper, or book, other than the Bible, while at the Detention Center.

Many detainees are held at the Detention Center – and thus deprived of all access to magazines, newspapers, and books, other than the Bible – for months or years on end.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit (on behalf of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center) against the Berkeley County Sheriff and employees of the detention center.

If the Detention Center wanted to limit their prisoners to one book, you would think they could’ve gone with something less violent…

It seems like an open/shut case to me, if the claims are accurate. What would be the upside to a policy like this? I have no clue.

But it makes me have all the more appreciation for people like Leslie who do what they can to make sure prisoners are exposed to more ideas about religion, not fewer.

(Thanks to CarrieBeth for the link)

  • mikespeir

    The objection will be that the jail isn’t actually providing the Bible. That’s beside the point. Officials are still endorsing religion by allowing only the Bible to be owned. I mean, really, what other reason would they have?

  • Seeker

    Maybe it’s part of the “prisons are universities of crime the way the are now” thing that’s going on?

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I sense an atheist plot. Clearly forcing them to read the bible is the best way to expose the flaws in their religion.

    Very clever. ;)

  • A Portlander

    Aaaaand there are those wacky Carolinas again.

  • Liudvikas

    I would go insane if I was allowed to own only the bible.
    Depriving prisoners of intake of new information is clearly a cruel and/or unusual punishment.

  • http://beerwithstrangers.com Tony Russo

    Talking of conspiracies, this was the Adsense ad I saw. I think “The Friendly Atheist” is trying to break local churches half-a-cent at a time. I clicked through.

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    Given the low literacy levels of prisoners, the Bible in any of its forms would be such as waste of time, regardless of whetehr they were reading it for scripture or as a novel.

    Less rules, more literacy and numeracy instruction.

    Yeah I have sources, if you need them.

  • muggle

    Liudvikas beat me to it. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

    OMG! I cannot imagine a day without reading. Don’t know what I’d do if I had only the buybull to read. My brain would snap.

  • Silent Service

    Liudvikas and Muggle,

    Trust me, your brain would snap while in prison with or without books. The lack of books just accelerates the process from weeks to hours. You never realize how damning prison is until you watch what it does to somebody. Our prison system isn’t about rehabilitation; it’s about revenge for the victim, their family, and society.

    The only reason the prisoner’s in the Berkeley County Detention Center are being allowed a bible is because the Christians running the place are required by their faith to give all people a chance at redemption in the next life. In this life, they want you to suffer, because if you find Jebus before you die, he won’t punish you in the next life. They want you to be punished and to suffer for your sins before zombe Jebus saves you.

  • Ibis

    Thank gods (um, people) for the ACLU.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    That is utterly inhumane. They should have access to a library and at least some periodicals. They should have access to religious books if they want them. But only allowing the Bible is clearly privileging religion.

  • Thegoodman

    Cruel and unusual punishment, imo. The Bible is boring as hell.

  • Anonyman

    PZ gave a link to an article about this incident from the Charleston, SC Post and Courier, and the commentors there seem to be of the belief that even the Bible’s too good for prisoners – comments such as

    If you really want to know my opinion- they should pull ALL READING MATERIALS. They don’t deserve those luxuries either. They already get cable tv, 3 hots and a cot, and exercise equipment. Take all of their recreational means except for walking in the occasional sun away.

    are easily at the tamer end of what’s being said there.

  • JB Tait

    Perhaps we could gather enough money to have a special version of The Bible printed for them, wherein the lettering is very faint. The prisoners who chose to, could write on these pages and create their own books. Then the few who had enough education or literacy could create materials for the rest.
    Though if the prison is similarly restrictive, there might not be the other necessary materials such as a pencil or crayon, so they may have to write it in chocolate or blood.

    If prison officials object, they can use another body fluid that acts as invisible ink?

  • L.Long

    You all and the prisoners are all looking at this wrong. The worse thing about jail is it is BORING!!!! So read the buyBull and start a debating club to debate the validity of the buyBull and to make it mean something debate how this interacted with why you are there.
    By the time their sentences are up we got a batch of new reformed atheists!!! OK maybe just atheists.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    When you have to spend a few months or a few years in prison

    This isn’t timeout in elementary school – most people in prison committed rather heinous acts. They weren’t forced to go there; they acted in a manner that justified punishment and complete removal from society.

    And why should I care what violent offenders get to read? If it were up to me, they’d sit in the dark all day with nothing to read.

  • Judith Bandsma

    That comment is way out of reality. Prisoners here don’t get cable tv. Hell, they don’t even get 3 meals a day…breakfast and a sandwich supper 4 days out of 7, fuller supper the others. And exercise equipment consists of maybe bench pressing other prisoners.

  • L.Long

    As the sheriff in Arizona says:
    Don’t like how we treat prisoners here?
    Then dont commit crimes here!

  • Liudvikas

    OneSTDV, I care because prisons should be all about rehabilitation instead of punishment.
    If it were up to you, the prisoners would just go insane. Don’t believe me? Try sitting alone in the dark with no stimuli, I doubt you could do it even for a few days, let alone a few years.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Liudvikas,
    Please give authoritative sources that demonstrate undeniably consistent and measurable success of the rehabilitation model where violent offenders are concerned. I’ve yet to see one…because they don’t exist.
    @OneSTDV,
    Most of the people in jail or prison are there as a result of the bullshit “war on drugs”. Most folks that are locked up shouldn’t be locked up in the first place. Those that should rightfully be locked up need to be managed in a way that they don’t become even more of a liability. Give ‘em 3 squares, clean living conditions and the ability to think, read and grow. Bored and idle perps quickly become a pain in the ass for everyone. We don’t need to surrender our own humanity while dealing with scum.

  • Liudvikas

    @The Godless Monster
    There’s none that I know of, but that’s no excuse to run a prison system that instead of trying to rehabilitate prisoners is producing worse criminals.
    I bet treating prisoners as human beings would go a long way.

  • Judith Bandsma

    I forgot to add that the detention centers here in SC are NOT the prisons. They are the county jails where people are held awaiting trial when they cannot afford bail. Or are incarcerated on shorter sentences.

    The majority of these people being denied any other reading materials have not yet been convicted of anything.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Liudvikas,
    “I bet treating prisoners as human beings would go a long way.”

    I agree, but it won’t do a damn thing to rehabilitate them, that’s my point…and it’s an important point.
    It comes down to managing a population of potentially aggressive, socially maladjusted and ignorant people in the most effective way possible. Fucking with them is not going to produce positive results in the long term.
    In regards to the prison system producing worse criminals, you only touch on the surface of the problem. As I said before, most people in prison don’t belong in prison in the first place. They belong in drug rehab or some sort of non-violent offender treatment program. Te system isn’t just turning criminals into worse criminals…it’s turning normal people into hardcore offenders.
    We have Christianity and its fear of non-religious artificially induced euphoria to thank for that. You can be high and delusional and out of your fucking mind, but only if it’s on Jesus. These jackasses live in constant fear that someone may be having a good time.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    but no other books, magazines, or newspapers.

    Are they allowed toilet paper, or do they have to use the Bible for that as well?

  • Eliza

    Are they allowed toilet paper, or do they have to use the Bible for that as well?

    The Bible wouldn’t work very well as toilet paper, ‘cuz it’s already full of shit.

    (just couldn’t resist that mile wide target)

  • muggle

    Silent Service, agreed. I wouldn’t last a week. I’m sure I’d be dead inside a week frankly.

    It’s easy to be judgmental of prisioners. Because the image that comes to mind are muggers, rapists, child molesters, robbers, etc.

    Not so easy if you really take a look at your own life and think what could make you wind up in jail. It’s scary how little could if you think about it.

    Me, I skipped state with my daughter to protect her from a perv father. I had full custody so it wasn’t kidnapping but it was interference with visitation. I was also physically stopped from killing him when my daughter told me of the abuse by a friend. If that friend hadn’t been there… Well, there but for the grace of another human being go I…

    If you ever have to kill someone in self-defense, well, you’d better damned well be able to prove it was self-defense because the State has the corpse and the smoking gun and they can prove the murder… just saying.

    Oh, and does anybody still suffer from the delusion that justice outs in our court system, that the liklihood of conviction has absolutely nothing to do with how able you are to buy a good lawyer or team of lawyers?

    As has been pointed out, the great bulk of prisioners are in there for the war on drugs…

    Sentencing’s so out of wack, you really can’t know how bad those actually rotting in jail are unless you know their specific story and even then, well, like I said, you have to prove self-defense which ain’t bloody likely without the money for a top-ranked attorney unless there’s something extremely freaking obvious.

    And all this isn’t even considering wrongful convictions.

    We don’t know shit about the people in jail other than they’ve been convicted of a crime and even then we don’t know everything that went down.

    But even if they are utterly guilty of something heinous like murder, rape or child molestation, either put forth the death penalty or shut up about how easy it is for them in jail. We all know it’s not. If anyone thinks it’s swell, I suggest they commit a crime (hopefully non-violent) and land themselves that “easy” gig.

    To say that they should just sit in a dark cell wasting away for their crimes no matter how heinous is worse than calling for the death penalty. It’s crueler. It’s like children of abusive parents who keep up a relationship with said parents in order to treat them badly in return. No, walk away — or you’re no better than they are.

    Oh, and doesn’t this assume the buybull serves a purpose? If you think of nothing else, this is promulgating the image that the bad guys are all heathen unbelievers that need the buybull in their lives.

  • PJB863

    I worked for the Florida Dept. of Corrections for a little over a year. There was a library which inmates were allowed to check out a book at a time. They were also allowed to subscribe to periodicals (no Playboy, Hustler, etc.) and, if they had money (rare) buy books.

    Yes, bibles were common. So were what we called “Jailhouse Conversions.” Inmates that suddenly became super-religious while incarcerated. I imagine their recidivism rates were pretty high too.

    As a means of maintaining control and safety for inmates, this county jail should adopt a different policy.


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