Life, Without Parole. Or Books?!

For years, gang violence has been a major problem in American prisons. Now, it seems, religious radicalism is a growing concern. To curb it, The Bureau of Prisons began the Standardized Chapel Library Project. With the help of several religious scholars, whose names haven't been made public, the Bureau determined what religious texts prison chapel libraries can carry. Laurie Goodstein, who covers religion for The New York Times, got her hands on the official list. "There are nine titles by C.S. Lewis," she writes. "And none from the theologians Reinhol Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller." Inmates and advocates were outraged. In response to mounting criticism, the Bureau of Prisons announced that it has decided "to alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project." According to a spokeswoman, "The Bureau will begin immediately to return to chapel libraries materials that were removed in June 2007, with the exception of any publications that have been found to be inappropriate, such as material that could be radicalizing or incite violence. The review of all materials in chapel libraries will be completed by the end of January 2008." In the first hour, we'll talk about the motivations behind this controversial program: religious radicalism in America's prison system. Is it a problem? Should the government be more worried about it?

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Hearing people in prison complain makes me very upset. I don't want people treated badly but your in JAIL. You have lost your "normal" rights as a person in society. These guys have more access to books and tools than our kids in school!. Lock them up, keep them fed and provided medical care, but that's it, remember your in prison to suffer not party!

Sent by Jeffery James | 2:15 PM | 9-26-2007

thank you for this fascinating discussion. what better evidence of being targeting by the State or proof of the importance of his (or her) radicalism would a religous leader on the inside need than banning books? i believe that recruitment and turning one radical would most effictively spread from a charasmatic fantic one on one - not from inciting texts. and maybe the outrageously poor state of federal prisons (lack of system of parole, overcrowding) incites more radicalism than books. it certainly makes me loathe to trust this bureau.

Sent by please keep anonymous | 2:23 PM | 9-26-2007

While I feel that religious extremism has caused much of the evil in the world, I do not believe that prisoners should be denied access to printed material. A solution might be to teach prisoners to understand that printed material is only as reliable as its source. We should also teach tolerance, acceptance and coexistence. Any religion that justifies harming others because they believe differently should be identified as suspect.

Sent by Suzy | 2:26 PM | 9-26-2007

The problem I am hearing when I listen to people on the outside discussing prison is that there is a disconnect between the reality of PRISON and what prisoners really go through, and the almost philosophical ideals that outsiders try to apply to the situation. The fact is, prisoners are easy to "radicalize" not because of religion necessarily, but because prison itself is so utterly dehumanizing, violent, degrading, and then the aftermath never goes away. The situation within prison is similar to the situation in impoverished, violent, and degrading places all over the world that produce terrorists. Add to that a lack of education and no decent leadership, and then add a definite bias in favor of one religion over all others (Christianity), and you have a situation that is a systemic nightmare.
For the record, I did time in state prison. I observed this firsthand at that level. Federal prisons, I was told, actually have more rights than state prisons do. There are protections in place for non-mainstream religions in Federal prisons that do not exist in state prison. I was also told by a chaplain that men's prisons have far more diversity in their libraries and chapel libraries than women's prisons have.

Thank you for broadcasting this story. Our society is becoming geared towards not caring for millions of people because of mistakes they or the legal system made. The more people go to prison, the more chances there will be for people to adopt attitudes that the rest of society will have to deal with later, and some of those attitudes will have a definite, negative religious bent.

Sent by Lili Coffin | 2:29 PM | 9-26-2007

When was the last time the government stepped in to control literature or other types of media available to those incarcerated? Are there any parallels that can be drawn between the two time periods? Finally, the discussion has focused on Christianity and Islam; these are obviously the mainstays of the prison population, but are there other options such as Buddhism or Hinduism and if not, is it any surprise that these relatively pacifistic are absent? Food for thought.

Sent by Kyle from Portland | 2:37 PM | 9-26-2007

Rather than adding to the hysteria about terrorism, your program would serve the nation better by discussing the number of people incarcerated (2.2 million). This is a disgrace to the nation and is so far out of line with all other civilized nations that this is of far more importance to the spiritual and moral health of the nation than concerns about radicalization via religion in prisons.

Sent by john myers | 2:39 PM | 9-26-2007

It's interesting that now there are issues with the practice of Islam in US prisons. And much of this criticism is coming from non-muslims criticizing muslims are dictating how they should practice Islam. The problem in US prisons is not the practice of religion but the failure to create functional human beings after lengthy incarcerations. The lack of employment opportunities for ex-felons seemingly leaving no alternatives but to resort to criminal acts to survive financially. And ultimately failing as a society to create opportunities for our most vulnerable and at risk segment of our society but very willing to create expensive prisons to warehouse such people...Once again those in charge are looking at the wrong end of the horse.

Sent by Tony Copelyn | 4:25 PM | 9-26-2007

I'd like to know what The Bureau considers to be inappropriate. Are there any examples of publications they believe could be "radicalizing or insite violence????

Is anyone else concerned that the government will begin to apply such restrictions to the general public in the future? How will we respond when this issue relates to our personal freedom rather than a group of people that many have written off as subhuman?

Sent by Rebekah | 4:59 PM | 9-26-2007

The best option, IMO, would be to provide the holy texts of the religion (the Bible in its many translations for the Christians, the Koran/Qur'an for the Muslims, Torah for the Jews, etc), and not stock the "extra" books.

Sent by Richard | 9:41 PM | 9-26-2007

It amazes me how a discussion on radical Islam in prison gets twisted to condemning Christian groups in prison. Tell the whole story not just a small part that suits your prejudices. If you don't know what's true, find out.

Sent by Stephen Garfield | 1:00 AM | 9-27-2007

How far could a terrorist organization infilitrate a fedreal prison without being identified? What does this say about our federal prison systems if terrorist organizations are recruiting in the penal systems? What measures are/could be taken to prevent futher recruiting in federal prison systems?

Sent by George Frisby | 9:15 AM | 9-27-2007

I have been a Muslim prison chaplain for some ten years and work as a consultant for ISNA with its Leadership Development Department as Chaplaincy Coordinator. Currently I am graduate student at Hartford Seminary Islamic Chaplaincy program and would love to dailogue with any interested in exploring this subject with person insights and academic reflections. An answer to the majority of your question posed can be answered by helping to create qualified professionally trained Muslim Chaplains. There is no better prevention mechanism, I would love to discuss what could happen in vacuums of no Muslim Chaplains, poorly educated Muslim Chaplains and Well Educated Chaplains without rigorous academic formation? Muslim chaplaincy is a field that we at Hartford Seminary are developing to meet not only the demand of Muslim chaplains but to work proactively at building prevention measures that eliminate these fears.

Your support is needed in helping create scholarships, stipends, and any assistance to create an institution for Muslim Chaplaincy like the Muslim Chaplains Association.

Hope we can build this field together.

Peace be with you all.

Sent by Muslimchaplains | 4:04 PM | 9-27-2007

I guess the Narnia series is now banned in federal prisons? I wonder what nine C.S. Lewis books were on "the list" of books to be removed. This is a bad precedent for all of us living outside the prison walls. (Shades of Fahrenheit 451.) A president who is clueless on foreign policy and shameless on domestic policy.What radicalizes is the conditions of total deprivation and neglect, both inside and outside prison walls. Is Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth ( a nonreligious book) already banned reading material?

Sent by Jennifer Cook | 4:06 PM | 9-27-2007