- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah prisoners can read violence-laced literature such as “Games of Thrones” but are barred from accessing two guidebooks on manipulation.

Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power” and “The Art of Seduction” are the only two books specifically banned at Utah State Prison’s five libraries, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/2jnN7kA ). Prison officials were concerned they could instruct inmates how to negatively manipulate people, librarian Christie Jensen said.

Other states’ prisons have far longer lists of banned books. For example, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prohibits more than 15,000 titles, including a biography of Oprah Winfrey and a collection of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, according to Texas Civil Rights Project report.

Anna Brower Thomas of the Utah American Civil Liberties Union called the prison’s ban on the two titles arbitrary.

“People can learn how to manipulate other people through all sorts of different sources. What is it about these two books that is so dangerous?” she said.

Jensen acknowledged the reasoning could apply to other books, such as a well-known self-help book by Dale Carnegie.

“A case, I think, could be made for ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ that that book could be used for evil, as well,” Jensen said. “But we have that because that book is for positive reasons: how to make friends, how to influence people for good.”

Also banned are 46 magazines dubbed sexually explicit, including Playboy and Hustler. Sex offenders also are barred from other works, mostly short stories, that could clash with their rehabilitation.

All reading material is screened before reaching inmates, who can ask the library to stock certain books.

Prison policy allows officials to deny those requests for a range of reasons, including poor writing quality. Jensen said inmates have a right to appeal those decisions, but she’s never seen it happen.

“It’s just because (inmates) know I’m not going to buy ‘The Anarchist Cookbook,’” she said, “and they know I’m not going to buy a book on lock picking.”

The prison’s libraries have posted a list of books that are commonly banned at other facilities, such as Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Jensen said inmates will often ask if those books are prohibited at the prison, and she tells them: “No, it’s the opposite. Those are usually banned and we actually have them.”

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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