Monday, April 3, 2017



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A dissertation presented by Tammi Arford to The Department of Sociology and Anthropology In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the field of Sociology Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts .

July, 2013 .

ABSTRACT Drawing from 162 surveys and 26 in-depth interviews with state prison librarians throughout the U.S., this research addresses the processes of censorship that occur in prison libraries, as well as the roles of the library and the librarian within the organization of the prison. Most state prisons have a library, though size and quality vary greatly from one institution to the next. Wardens and other administrators have a great deal of control over the way the library operates, as they make decisions concerning budget, space, and materials. The prison librarian is also an essential part of how a prison library functions and the kind of role it plays within the institution. Prison librarians often simultaneously experience conflict with security personnel who challenge the contents and purpose of the library, while also being expected to perform some type of security function themselves, thus leading to a situation in which they feel role conflict. While many librarians see the library as a rehabilitative tool, they argue that the majority of custody staff and administrators see it as a mechanism of social control, albeit one that they are less than enthusiastic to support with resources. Both formal and informal processes of censorship occur in the prison, and there is significant variation in which materials are censored from one institution to the next. A central thesis of this document is the notion that censorship constitutes an exercise of power. The practice of censorship occurs between human beings, yet it is also influenced by the organizational structure of the prison and the laws of the state, so that possible courses of action are structured (though not determined) for individuals within the organization. I create a typology of censored materials, which fall into two main categories: (1) items considered a risk to the safety and security of the institution, and (2) materials deemed to be ‘counter to the goal of rehabilitation’. A broad array of materials falls into each of these two categories. I also outline the primary justifications given for the censorship of each category of items.

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