Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association draws attention to books that are prohibited in different institutions, starts Sunday. 

While children and schools are usually associated with the week-long celebration of challenged books, it also highlights books that are banned in prison.

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 A 2011 report by the Texas Civil Rights Commission states the Texas Department of Criminal Justice “arbitrarily censors books and magazines sent to Texas prisoners,” banning books by “award-winning authors, literary classics, and books about civil rights and prison conditions.” 


The newest book to be added to the banned book list for Texas prisoners is Dan Slater’s non-fiction book “Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartel.” It depicts the lives of Mexican-American boys in Laredo who agree to work for the Mexican cartels in order to escape poverty, according to publisher Simon & Schuster.  

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In a piece for the online news site Slate, Slater wrote that books like “Friday Night Lights” and certain works by renowned authors like Noam Chomsky and Langston Hughes are banned from Texas prisoners. Ironically, Texas allows prisoners to read Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and David Duke’s “My Awakening,” which Slater called some “of the most racist books ever written.”

According to the state rights commission, Texas prisons ban books if they have contraband, have information about making drugs, weapons or explosives; are “detrimental to offenders’ rehabilitation because they would encourage deviant sexual behavior;” have sexually explicit images, or instructions on how to conduct criminal activity. 

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The Guardian newspaper reports some of Leonardo DaVinci’s sketches and some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are also banished due to sexual content. Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian that TDCJ has banned about 15,000 books and that the list is growing. 

“It’s like we’re living in the dark ages,” Slater told the Guardian. “The system is so aggressive and arbitrary.” 

The Texas Civil Rights Commission wrote in its report that it encourages allowing prisoners to read more books since reading “enhances the ability to  learn new skills, improves memory, and diminishes the effects of age on the brain.”