People incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility and other New York prisons still are being forbidden from reading the entire book “Blood in the Water,” the New York Times reports. The book is a Pulitzer-Prize winner written by historian Heather Ann Thompson about the 1971 Attica uprising. In March, Thompson sued to reverse the ban, alleging First Amendment violations. The lawsuit was later dismissed as New York corrections officials agreed to let incarcerated people read a paperback version of the book, with some redactions. Officials will remove pages that contain a map of the Attica prison, citing security concerns. The hardback version of the book has the map on the back. If prisoners try to order the hardback, they will get a paperback instead.
This dispute is reminiscent of the current fight over whether schools should remove books that cover racial and sexual topics. Corrections officials previously used the argument that some topics should be off limits to prisoners. This is similar to the belief of many parents, school staff and lawmakers that children should be protected from certain topics. Current New York policy allows incarcerated people to read a wide variety of books, as long as they do not encourage the disruption of prison operations. For example, books with instructions on how to pick locks or make weapons are off-limits. In the Attica uprising, prisoners and state troopers battled for four days. The uprising left 43 people dead, including 10 guards and civilians who were held hostage by escaped prisoners. Thompson, a history and African American studies professor at the University of Michigan, spent over a decade researching the book.