US Federal Prisons to Limit Religious Books
BY: STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Aug 17, USA (MSNBC) Moshe Milstein, a religious Jew who is incarcerated at the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., wants his Maimonides back. Officials at the Otisville prison recently removed hundreds of books from the chapel library there--including, Milstein charges in court documents, works by the great 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides as well as the Zohar, the ancient text upon which the mystical practice of Kabbalah is based. The books were removed, Bureau of Prisons officials explain, to comply with new rules set earlier this year.
To reduce the risk that prisoners will find hateful or radicalizing (read: terrorist) materials in chapel libraries, the BOP has developed lists of 150 approved books per religion for 20 religions, including Bahai, Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses. In all of the bureau's 114 prisons, chaplains are in the midst of dr amatic reorganizations, removing from shelves any book not on one of the BOP's lists. "It was a huge undertaking," says Traci Billingsley, a BOP spokeswoman.
Religious groups have taken up the inmates' cause. They accuse the BOP of, in the words of the Orthodox Jewish leaders who wrote a letter to BOP director Harley Lappin, "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
The goal behind the lists--that is, preventing inmates nationwide from reading incendiary tracts--may be exemplary, they say, but its implementation is not. "The new policy will force chaplains to throw out many excellent books ... leaving only a possibility of 150 books available to the inmates," wrote Mark L. Early, president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, in a letter to the BOP's chaplain. Billingsley says that the lists aren't capped; prisoners are welcome to submit titles for vetting at any time.