Legislative Update: Public Hearing on Censorship in Prison Libraries

July 8, 2019

Today three committees in the Illinois House of Representatives held a joint public hearing on censorship in prison libraries, precipitated by the removal earlier this year of nearly 200 books from the Education Justice Project (EJP) library at the Danville Correctional Center. Following that incident, the Freedom to Learn Campaign was created, news outlets covered the stories and issues, and constituents reached out to legislators. ILA filed a written statement and a witness slip for the hearing, and ILA staff, board members, and members at large attended in support.

The three committees holding today's hearing (Higher Education, chaired by Rep. Carol Ammons; Appropriations--Higher Education, chaired by Rep. La Shawn K. Ford; and Appropriations--Public Safety, chaired by Kelly M. Cassidy) each hosted a panel of expert witnesses who testified to the facts about what happened and the relevant issues involved, including Dr. Rebecca Ginsburg, EJP director; Holly Clingan, EJP community librarian; Michael Tafolla, a formerly incarcerated person who became educated through the EJP; Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney for the ACLU-IL; Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association; Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People's Law Center; and Rob Jeffreys, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). To date, all but 14 of the books that had been removed have been reinstated to the EJP library, which exists outside the structure of regular IDOC libraries in order to support the EJP's mission to offer upper-division college courses to incarcerated individuals at Danville. Acting Director Jeffreys acknowledged the need for updated policies and transparent procedures, as well as a viable, independent appeals process and body; the state legislators expressed a preference for an administrative solution but did not shy away from creating legislation should it be necessary.

Rep. Carol Ammons, who chaired the hearing, closed with next steps: Setting up a meeting with legislators and Acting Director Jeffreys to go over remaining concerns, strengthening the partnerships between IDOC and volunteer organizations like EJP so that outcomes can be better tracked and the programs' worth quantified so this does not happen again, and reassessing progress made by the time the General Assembly reconvenes in the fall. 

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