Jeff Zmuda, the new acting secretary at the Kansas Department of Corrections, has taken a valuable first step by figuratively tearing up a list of 7,000 books and other publications banned in state prisons.

As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith reported, “The now-abolished list of banned publications included cooking, health and tattoo magazines, self-help books, bestselling literary works, such as Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and more scintillating titles, such as ‘The Happy Hooker’s Guide to Sex: 69 Orgasmic Ways to Pleasure a Woman.’

Prisoners give up many things in the name of justice, but access to information about the world beyond the walls that hold them shouldn’t be one of them.

“When I got here, I realized people were still referencing the list,” Zmuda told The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board. “I don’t know that they were referencing all of the stuff on the list, but the list still existed. I said, ‘Look, we can’t have that list as it is.’ We committed to doing something and changing that.”

Questions remain about how a replacement policy will work. Workers in the mail room can raise the alarm about publications, and managers can decide the ban them on a case-by-case basis. While this is indeed a flexible policy, it raises the specter of individual bias and abuse. Prisoners also must cover certain costs of appealing officials’ decision to ban materials.

Our country is going through an important debate about the justice system. While a multitude of voices have been raised, there is broad consensus that past efforts have led to a more punitive system, and worse outcomes, than intended. That means different approaches for lower-level offenders, and attempts to increase discretion of prosecutors and judges on the ground. In other words, one size fits all doesn’t work in matters of crime and punishment.

The elimination of the banned books list, while small in and of itself, moves Kansas prisons in this direction. Zmuda should be commended for quick action, and we expect that he keeps watch on how his new policy is actually implemented. He certainly has enough other important matters to attend to, but this change matters, too.

And if prison mail room staff or their managers withhold publications for arbitrary, personal or religious reasons, we trust the issue will be addressed.