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Coloring books, Klingon dictionaries and other books banned by state prisons

Harrison Smith September 10 at 9:00 AM

In Florida, where roughly 96,000 men and women are locked up in state prisons, the government’s list of 20,000 publications that are off-limits to inmates includes Klingon dictionaries, Dungeons Dragons guides, prisoners’ rights pamphlets and Windows manuals “for Dummies.” Also listed are a host of coloring books — draw-between-the-lines titles featuring illustrations of butterflies, flowers, paisley patterns, “calming mandalas,” muscle cars and (in the case of “Exotic Chickens: Coloring for Everyone”) poultry breeds like the Crèvecoeur, Houdan, golden laced Wyandotte and Polish hen.

(Illustration by Ellen Weinstein/For The Washington Post)

Under guidelines used by the Literature Review Committee at the Florida Department of Corrections, all those books are apparently “detrimental to the security, order or disciplinary or rehabilitative interests” of the state’s prisons, or “might facilitate criminal activity.” But what’s so bad about, for instance, a coloring book? In an email, a Florida corrections spokesman explained that some offer “easy to use templates for tattooing,” which is prohibited because of the risk of transmitting diseases. Foreign (and fictional) language dictionaries, meanwhile, can pose a security threat “by providing a method of communication not readily identifiable by security staff.”

The same books might be perfectly fine in another state. If that sounds arbitrary, it is. “There is a serious nationwide need for better standards and oversight in what prisoners are allowed to read,” says Michelle Dillon, public records manager and development coordinator for the Human Rights Defense Center,

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