‘Where’s Waldo?’ Off Limits To Texas Inmates, But ‘Mein Kampf’ Isn’t

Texas prisoners are prohibited from reading seemingly innocent novels and picture books but have access to propaganda written by hate group leaders.

Close-up of wooden bookshelf

Oftentimes, behind bars is where people fall into gang and hate group affiliation as a means of survival and belonging.

Contributing to the vicious cycle is the fact that some prison systems permit inmates to read books written by the likes of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, David Duke.

Case in point: Texas prisoners are banned from reading more than 10,000 books, including the classic children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” because it contains stickers, yet they have access to two books by Duke and Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf."

Despite the ability these books have to radicalize inmates and reinforce the hate that divides our country, they are allowed because they don’t include detailed descriptions of illegal sex acts, information on criminal plans, or contain covers that can be used to hide contraband, which are among some of the many reasons why seemingly innocent and normal books are prohibited.

As Newsweek notes, many civil rights activists argue that inmates should be able to read anything they want, whether it’s by Duke, Hitler, or J.K. Rowling.

“There’s a lot of rights prisoners give up, but they shouldn’t have to give up that one,” Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas division of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Dallas Morning News. “Adolf Hitler and David Duke should be there just as much as Salman Rushdie and Alice Walker.”

Strictly from a civil liberties standpoint, Burke is absolutely right that prisoners should have access to all books. However, from a moral perspective, if the criminal justice system reserves the power to restrict access to literature then — if anything — it should be used to ban hate propaganda, not picture books and fiction novels.  

While it's no secret that the current prison structure is a far cry from a rehabilitation system, it certainly doesn't have to lend itself to being a breeding ground for radicalized hate mongers. 

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