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Michigan Bans Some Spanish and Swahili Books in Prisons

Officials in prison systems across the U.S. have banned certain books to prevent the flow of material that they say might incite violence In Michigan, the ban has extended to several non-English language dictionaries, NPR reports. Over the last year, the Michigan Department of Corrections has banned dictionaries in Spanish and Swahili under claims that books' contents are a threat to penitentiaries. "If certain prisoners all decided to learn a very obscure language, they would be able to then speak freely in front of staff and others about introducing contraband or assaulting staff or assaulting another prisoner," said corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. He says allowing prisoners to gain access to language books other than English could encourage them to organize without the knowledge of staff. "When it's in a language that we don't have the ability to read ourselves and understand exactly what it is that we're looking for, we're not able to allow it in," he added.

If staff is unable to find a translation the book request is denied, and the book is placed under the list of banned books – even when these are in Spanish, the second most spoken language in U.S. households. For Rodolfo Rodriguez, getting books in his native Spanish language has been about learning how to communicate in English, something he's been trying to do since being sentenced in 1993 to life in prison. "One feels offended. One feels like they are telling you that pure Spanish is worthless, that you don't need to learn because you'll just stay here," he said. Because he doesn't speak and write well in English, Rodriguez says he's had a harder time navigating the legal process from prison. Seven books in both Spanish and Swahili have been banned from the state's prisons in the last year, says a list obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.


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