woodford county jail bans books in response to activists posting wish list

by Tim Phillips

Arrested in rural Illinois on August 14, two animal rights activists, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, have been charged with “possession of burglary tools.” Police allegedly found bolt cutters, wire cutters, ski masks, camouflage clothing, and muriatic acid – a substance that can be used to destroy masks or clothing or damage documents or vehicles – in their car. They are being held at Woodford County Jail, a small jail in Eureka, Illinois.

On August 17, the judge set bail for Lang and Olliff at $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. Lang is apparently not receiving vegan food, meaning he’s had to purchase expensive food from the jail commissary. He’s also being held in a small cell block with three other prisoners, apart from the general population, perhaps because this is the only way to keep him separated from Olliff.

Now, hours after the activists’ book wish list was posted, the jail has announced a new rule banning books. Yet the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court with jurisdiction in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, ruled in King v. Federal Bureau of Prisons (2005) that while there may be valid reasons for limiting an inmate’s access to certain kinds of books, the refusal to allow an inmate to obtain a book, without evidence justifying the restriction, infringes on the inmate’s freedom of speech. According to a subsequent Seventh Circuit opinion, Munson v. Gaetz (2012), which quotes the opinion in King,

A prison’s refusal to allow an inmate access to a book “presents a substantial First Amendment issue. Freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.” … Forbidding someone the right to read shuts “him out of the marketplace of ideas and opinions,” which is what the Free Speech Clause protects.