January 08, 2018

Rep. Watson Coleman Statement on New Jersey Dept. of Corrections Ban of “The New Jim Crow”

Congresswoman to meet with Governor-elect Murphy on constitutionality of ban

EWING, NJ – Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) released the below statement following reports that at least two New Jersey state prisons have banned inmates from reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Aged of Colorblindness:

 “As long as I have been a lawmaker, I have fought for the “right to life” for the incarcerated. To learn that the New Jersey Department of Corrections has sought to censor a piece of literature that not only exposes the dire need for reform of our prison system, but that also educates the masses is misguided and dangerous. However, sadly, this practice isn’t uncommon.

 For far too long, our prison systems have focused on punitive treatment and set aside their duty to rehabilitate. By banning Michelle Alexander’s book and other similar work, we are infringing on the First Amendment rights of the incarcerated. It is clear; this is about the system and the individual. Our work as elected officials to reform the criminal justice system and rehabilitate the incarcerated centers around having access to the musings, research, and findings of published thought leaders. It is an essential piece of decision-making for legislators as well as those who are seeking knowledge and the courage to break the cycle of recidivism.

 In the coming days, I look forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy, ACLU-NJ and our allies to work within the constitutional parameters to ensure we are supporting the rehabilitative needs of the incarcerated and not shutting them out and limiting their chance at success.”

Watson Coleman has led the call for reforms to prisoner re-entry programs, fighting tirelessly to shut the revolving door of recidivism for individuals who have returned from incarceration. She is the author of the End-for-Profit Prisons Act that would prohibit the Bureau of Prisons from contracting with for-profit prison companies and would codify the Obama-era directive to end the federal procurement of for-profit prisons.

During her time as Assembly Majority Leader in the New Jersey State Legislature, Watson Coleman convened a year-long series of public hearings on the topic while shepherding legislation through the New Jersey Assembly that The New York Times called “a model for the rest of the nation,” on prisoner rehabilitation and release.