Books in Prisons

The Minister of Justice in the UK, Chris Grayling, has banned relatives and friends from sending books to prisoners. And the justification is that the acquisition of books will be part of a punishment/reward scheme. Prisoners will still be able to have books in their cells.

This policy needs to be challenged. Books after all, are a right, not to be confused with treats, or punishment. Any civilised society will be encouraging prisoners to read, read, read. Not making reading something to be earned for good behaviour. Books should not be part of a control scheme.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and others have been objecting to this ill-considered policy. The Howard League’s chief executive Frances Crook wrote about the ban for

This is a letter to the Telegraph signed by many writers on the subject.

SIR – We are extremely concerned at new rules that ban family and friends sending in books to prisoners. Whilst we understand that prisons must be able to apply incentives to reward good behaviour by prisoners, we do not believe that education and reading should be part of that policy. Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells.  In an environment with no internet access and only limited library facilities, books become all the more important.

We urge the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to reconsider the Prison Service Instruction that limits books and other essentials being sent to prisoners from family and friends.


The full list of signatories can be found here. It’s an impressive list.

This policy seems so short-sighted; don’t we want to encourage prisoners to read more? And so mean spirited; what will prisoners be refused next: food? sleep? lawyers?

Speak out! You could start by signing the petition at petition.


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Filed under Books, Reading

3 Responses to Books in Prisons

  1. This is an important post, Caroline. I agree entirely. Surely reading and learning should be an essential part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation. I have read studies that indicate that feeling empathy is a quality lacking by many who commit crimes. I would think that reading a variety of material including fiction, biographies and personal development may help to develop understanding and feelings of empathy, especially if involved in discussions and sharing sessions. Additionally, books that help to develop skills, real world knowledge and general interests, including appreciation of humanity and the environment may have a positive impact on the ability of prisoners to better adjust to a more positive existence outside the prison walls. Unless something is done to change the negative habits already developed, they will continue to re-offend. It is great that, with you, their needs have a voice.

    • Caroline

      People are being asked to post #shelfies on twitter: pictures of books you would like to send to prisoners. And there is a demonstration reading poetry outside Pentoville Prison at 2.30 Friday 28th March led by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. And on twitter Anne has suggested ereaders.
      I feel so strongly about this one. Robert, my American Penfriend on death row (checkout the post) and I had a great correspondance around books. I sent him lots.

  2. Good for you posting on this, Caroline. I haven’t checked if the situation has moved on since the backlash from writers against the policy this week, but it’s a cause for concern. I can appreciate the need for some wariness about what is allowed into prisons, but a blanket ban seems very crude and, as I understand it, the argument proposed is about using books as incentives rather than preventing unsuitable material coming in – whatever that may be. Surely it’s in all our interests that prisoners should experience some form of rehabilitation, of which reading could be expected to play a significant part. As Norah says, some studies suggest reading (literary fiction) increases empathy, surely a desirable goal of a prison spell. Also, education gives people more choices – in some cases this would be a choice not to re-offend. And books as incentives for good behaviour would only work for people who are already readers – what about those who still need to learn? Yes, there are prison libraries but, especially with the cuts, I wonder how good they are.
    Seems we are going back to the dark ages in this respect with punishment preferred to rehabilitation. it’s very sad

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