Oregon Prisons Ban Computer Programming Books

The Salem Reporter reports the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) has banned prisoner access to dozens of books related to technology and programming, such as those that teach beginners how to code and use basic computer programs. These books are not banned based on an overarching policy or code, but are rather assessed individually to try to identify any potential threats to their mission “to promote safety by holding offenders accountable for their actions and reducing the risk of future criminal behavior.”

“I’m not entirely surprised that my book is on that list,” Black Hat Python author Justin Seitz told Motherboard, in reference to the fact that his book is basically a hacking guide.“I think what’s more surprising is some of the other, much more baseline ones. Learning a programming language in and of itself is not dangerous.” The DOC also banned basic computer guides like Windows 10 for Dummies, Microsoft Excel 2016 for Dummies, and Google Adsense for Dummies because they posed a “clear and present danger.”

If you’ve applied for a job anytime in the last two decades, you know that understanding Excel is not a dangerous skill but rather one expected of the typical 21st century employee. Andy Rathbone has been writing books in the Windows for Dummies series since the 90s, and though much of that content is so outdated that it’s obsolete, many of his titles have been banned. 

“As soon as they get out of prison and have to deal with today’s world when just about everything is computerized, they won’t know what to do,” Rathbone said. “If they can’t get legitimate jobs, what are they going to do?”

The DOC sees the book ban as an important security measure.

“Not only do we have to think about classic prison escape and riot efforts like digging holes, jumping fences and starting fires, modernity requires that we also protect our prisons and the public against data system breaches and malware,” DOC spokesperson Jennifer Black said in an emailed statement. “It is a balancing act we are actively trying to achieve.”

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