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Captain Obvious and the Restricted Publications List
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 01/22/2018

Bookandkey The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Part of how we keep safe in corrections is to limit sensitive information to offenders. Some of the reasons that corrections agencies ban publications is because of violence, advocacy or racial/ethnic supremacy, or danger to the security of an institution.

Not all titles will reveal the content. Gerald’s Game, for example, would not draw much attention to those who did not know the plot. However, this book has elements of bondage in the sexual sense. The Lord of the Rings could be banned because the appendices contain a code in the form of Durin’s alphabet.

So, in order to get a feel for what each agency might ban, we bring in Captain Obvious.
  1. Break the class into teams
  2. Read the criteria for your agency in banning publications
  3. Give the example of a Captain Obvious title that could be banned and the reason why. The title of the book need not be real. In fact, in the spirit of Captain Obvious, it is best to make up something that is blatantly against safety codes. For this, an obvious example is “Tunnel digging and maintenance for the incarcerated”. This book would be banned because it describes how prisoners can escape from a correctional facility. Another example is “Common Plants that can get you high”. It is banned because it describes narcotics from common sources. Neither of these books exist, to my knowledge. If they did and their titles matched their content, they should surely be placed on the Restricted Publications List.
  4. Give the teams ten minutes to compile as many Captain Obvious titles as possible.
  5. Have each team read their titles and why they were suggested to be banned in correctional facilities.
  6. Have each team pick its two favorite books for the list they compiled.
  7. Allow the team to do a subject search on Amazon books or some other data base to see if these books exist in some form.
  8. Distribute the article below as food for thought for the class.
Knowledge is power.
To ban or not to ban

No decision is made in a vacuum. Rare is the occasion that there is a definitive answer to anything. Ambiguities abound and certain restrictions apply. This is certainly true when a book, article, or publication is considered as a possible restricted item in a correctional facility.

When a publication is banned in a correctional facility or by an entire agency, many words come to mind from all sides. Security, censorship, practical measure, intellectual freedom, safety, and litigation are just a few of these. Never the less, whether you are a librarian, an officer, a teacher, or an administrator, here are a few questions to consider:
  • Does your facility or agency have a restricted publications list? If so, what is the process to add a book/publication to that list?
  • Does the book pose an immediate threat to the good order of the institution?
  • Is there a criteria list for denial of the publication such as violence, advocacy or racial/ethnic supremacy, or danger to the security of an institution?
  • Is there a centralized office in your agency that affirms or denies requests for inclusion of a publication on the restricted list?
  • Do your facility and agency policy directives on mail and prisoner discipline outline the procedure for a notice of intent or any other administrative actions?
  • What process of appeal does an offender have to contest a restricted publication decision?
In the end, it may not be as easy as a denial. We must be conscious of the fact that any decision to restrict a book can go beyond the agency level. No matter how seemingly routine a restriction may be, the aftermath may be lengthy and mired in details. Individuals and outside entities may become deeply involved. Here are some awareness points:
  • Follow policy and procedure.
  • As necessary, request a second opinion from an authority that is higher in the chain of command.
  • Document the process.
  • Retain all documentation in consideration of possible offender grievances and litigation.
  • Despite any personal feelings about a particular restriction, it behooves the professional to adhere to all operating procedures.
  • Provide professional responses to all inquiries, no matter how provocative or heated they may seem.
  • Remember the overall goal of the mission statement.
Corrections decisions are made with the bounds of our policies and procedures and with society’s expectations in mind. Therefore, a specific book ban depends on so many factors. It is almost never as easy as issuing a categorical “no”. Outside forces may question the decision. And all of that has to be weighed against the common corrections mission statement of safety for staff, the offender, and the public. To ban or not to ban is not as simple as judging a book by its cover.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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