Click here for a videocast of my Banned Book Week speech, San Jose, CA, October 4, 2008.
[excerpt] “The rise in book challenges and successful book removals is a sign of our larger political times. To me, it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a tenfold increase in book challenges and an 800% increase in the number of people in prison over the last two decades. The two issues are directly related. In municipalities across the U.S., libraries (even schools from Seattle to Contra Costa) are closing, but prison expansion is still on the rise (despite falling violent crime rates). Last time I checked, the need for education was not suddenly declining — on the contrary, it’s only literacy rates that fall when we invest more in prisons than in schools or libraries. So how is it that Banned Book Week, budget cuts affecting literacy and educational programs and our nation’s prison priorities are related? Because: more than 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate. 85 percent among juveniles. This is a problem that starts in our communities, not the jails. It’s disturbing, but states have been planning the number of new prison beds to build based on the number of children who are reading below average by the 2nd to 4th grade. Think about this. States do not use this information to channel money into prevention and literacy programs. They budget to expand prisons. This is a terrifyingly backwards cycle….” watch the full speech.