August 11, 2019

By Reggie Garcia

Banned behind bars: 20,000 books can't be read by Florida inmates; the list may surprise you

Tallahassee Democrat

How to Leave Prison Early” is not welcome in Florida prisons. The Department of Corrections has declared the how-to book on work release, parole and clemency off limits for the 96,000 inmates in state custody.

 “It makes no sense. All it does is explain Florida law to help inmates and families understand their options and eligibility,” said the book’s author, Reggie Garcia, a Tallahassee clemency lawyer.

Garcia's book is among the 20,000 publications banned by the Department of Corrections in what critics call a punitive interpretation of a 1987 court ruling that allows the state to restrict inmates' First Amendment rights.

The courts allow prison officials to ban publications if it serves a “legitimate penological interest.” That interest is usually couched in terms of safety and security. Garcia’s book tripped the security alarm when he identified the inmate in a case he used as an example. 

In one chapter, Garcia wrote about a deaf inmate who he identified by name. The rule states personal information about an inmate in the hands of another inmate presents a threat to security and the correctional system's objectives.

“They cited some obscure administrative rule against naming inmates . . . (but) the ‘identifying information’ is on the DOC's  website so it is silly to block the book,” said Garcia.

He said he had asked the department to review and pre-clear the book before it was published, but the offer was declined.

This article appeared in Florida Today, Tallahassee Democrat, Naples Daily News, TCPalm, WJHG, MSN, and Mims Florida.

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