Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Backlash grows over prisoner 'book ban'

rexfeatures-1215014t.jpg
rexfeatures-2598496bq.jpg

Justice secretary Chris Grayling has come under fire for his controversial decision to ban prisoners from being sent books.

The ruling came to light in an angry comment piece written by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, on politics.co.uk this weekend.

Crook highlighted new regulations introduced in November, which mean families are no longer allowed to send small parcels to detainees. This covers everything from books to magazines, homemade cards and even items such as underwear.

The rules were introduced as part of system of privileges and incentives that are intended to make prisoners work for and engage in their own rehabilitation. Under the new system, prisoners do still have access to libraries (and can keep books in their cells), but the qualities of these vary massively and they are suffering from the same cuts that are affecting public library services across the UK.

Crook blasted the ruling as "irrational, nasty and bizarre."

"Book banning is in some ways the most despicable and nastiest element of the new rules," she wrote. "Prison libraries are supplied and funded by local authorities and have often been surprisingly good, but so many libraries are now closing and cutting costs that inevitably the first service to feel the pinch is in prison.

"Of course prisons should have incentives schemes to reward good behaviour. But punishing reading is as nasty as it is bizarre," she added.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling

Since then, a number of authors and commentators including Caitlin Moran, Mariella Frostrup and Mary Beard have added their voice to a growing chorus of disapproval:

Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, has branded the decision to ban books being sent to prisoners "a malign and pointless extra punishment which is not only small-minded but desperately counterproductive". Phillip Pullman told the Guardian the new rules were "loathsome and revolting."

"It comes from the mind of a man with the outlook of the sort of school bully who is indulged and favoured by the teachers, who can see perfectly well how noxious his behaviour is, but allow it to continue on the grounds that at least he's keeping order," he said.

A petition launched this week calling on Grayling to "urgently review and amend your new rules which restrict prisoners access to books and family items" has already attracted over 11,000 signatories.

The library at high security HM Prison Belmarsh in Woolwich

In a response piece written yesterday, Grayling defended his decision and insisted it was an important part of a new rehabilitation push to lower reoffending rates (unchanged for a decade).

"Let's be clear about one thing: prisoners' access to reading material is not being curtailed. All prisoners may at any one time have up to 12 books in their cells," he said.

"It was never the case that prisoners were simply allowed unlimited parcels – books or otherwise. Such a situation would never have been secure or practical. What has happened is that we have introduced consistency across the estate.

"We believe offenders need to behave well and engage in their own rehabilitation if they are to earn privileges and incentives," he added. The truth is this: reoffending rates have hardly changed for a decade – and indeed those for short sentenced prisoners are unacceptably high, with almost 60% of those sentenced to less than 12 months returning to crime within a year. With each new offence communities are being blighted and more victims of crime are suffering. Are we really saying we just want to continue doing 'more of the same', without trying to do something about that?"

But his critics pointed to the fact that the ban from prisoners being sent books may affect legal texts, at a time when legal aid in the UK is also being cut - as are library services.

Crook emphasised the impact the ban may have on young offenders.

"An inspection report published on March 18th on Wetherby prison, which holds 180 young boys, praised the jail for only containing the children in their cells for 16 hours a day during the week and 20 hours a day at weekends," she wrote. "Whilst many will not want to read a book to pass these endless hours, many boys I have met in prison do indeed read avidly."

What do you think? Is the ban on prisoners being sent books a practical move that helps inmates work for their rehabilitation via a reward system - or is it a petty and counter-productive decision? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features

Related

rexfeatures-1749367f.jpg

Jamie Dornan: I watch Sex And The City for help with erotic scenes

mands-hero.jpg

Emma Thompson and Annie Lennox star in M&S campaign

rexfeatures-2740701af.jpg

World's first 'Porn Studies' journal explores feminist porn and most searched terms

rexfeatures-3667985i.jpg

Kate and Wills celebrate Mother's Day with the royal family

hero.jpg

These vegetables are not what they seem

rexfeatures-3537873aa.jpg

Acid attack victim Naomi Oni accuses police of incompetence

More

20 soothing, beautiful songs guaranteed to help you fall asleep

An expert picks the ultimate classical music playlist

by Sarah Biddlecombe
20 Oct 2017

Puppy dog eyes are a thing and your dog makes them just for you

A study says dogs change their facial expressions when humans are looking

by Amy Swales
20 Oct 2017

Here’s how to buy a house or a flat for the princely sum of £1

It's time to enter the real-estate raffle

by Megan Murray
20 Oct 2017

Oxford University under fire for shocking lack of racial diversity

One MP called the revelations an example of “social apartheid”

by Moya Crockett
20 Oct 2017

This prosecco festival is the best way to start feeling Christmassy

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere

by Susan Devaney
20 Oct 2017

Missing your 16-25 railcard? We have good news for you

Rail bosses have taken pity on cash-strapped millennials

20 Oct 2017

This man’s response to his friend’s period while hiking is everything

“I had NOTHING on me and I was wearing shorts”

by Susan Devaney
20 Oct 2017

Why anxiety makes it harder to follow your intuition

It can have a paralysing effect on decision-making

by Anna Brech
19 Oct 2017

“Why all men must work to stamp out sexual harassment and abuse”

In wake of the Weinstein allegations, one writer argues why men need to be counted

19 Oct 2017

Rage, lust, power and warmth: how it feels to experience ‘red emotions

“I grew up being told my body was terrifying and my voice was unimportant”

by The Stylist web team
19 Oct 2017