In a chilling escalation of the ongoing war against the human rights of people who are incarcerated, the Missouri Department of Corrections announced that, effective September 25, people in Missouri facilities will be barred from receiving books and other publications from their loved ones.
This audacious move is yet another strategy to silence, isolate, and inflict harm against marginalized communities even further, under the guise of “reducing contraband.”
The Department, revealing its intention in a cold email newsletter, declared that prisoners must finance their own intellectual freedom by purchasing approved books, magazines, newspapers, and even correspondence courses.
The message is clear: If you’re imprisoned, your lifeline to the outside world, your intellectual growth, and your mental sanctuary are now commodities. You pay to read; you pay to think; you pay to exist.
Even more disturbing is the censorship element: “Reading materials must meet censorship guidelines and must not exceed $100 in value, threaten the safety and security of the institution, or exceed property limits.”
Lori Curry, executive director of Missouri Prison Reform, when speaking to KCUR emphasized how vital these books are as a lifeline for those imprisoned. “Mailing books is one of the few ways we can show love and solidarity with our brothers and sisters behind bars,” she said. Lori, who sends books to her partner as a means to further his education, rightly named this policy change as yet another theft from those already being robbed of their freedom.
Before this, remember that a little over a year ago Missouri had already extinguished most paper mail, leaving only legal communications from attorneys as the exception. In a world where the carceral system already bleeds Black, brown and poor communities of our vibrancy, this adds another layer of dehumanization.
Dylan Pyles, co-founder of the Kansas City-based Liberation Lit, also spoke to KCUR on the seismic impact this policy would have on their mission to send free books to incarcerated individuals in Kansas and Missouri. “Most of the people we serve are surviving on slave wages,” he said, highlighting the economic apartheid within the prison system. “This policy is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.”
Liberation Lit, along with other fierce advocates, has vowed to mobilize against this draconian policy. Books aren’t just paper and ink; they’re freedom, knowledge, and a connection to the world outside those steel bars. To deny someone that right isn’t just a policy change; it’s an act of intellectual violence.
In the spirit of radical abolitionism, we not only oppose this policy but also continue to fight for the complete dismantling of the prison-industrial complex that thrives on the systemic oppression and exploitation of Black, brown and poor people.