Tag Archives: Books for Prisoners

Unlimited Books for Prisoners

Do you know that poem called Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh? It begins

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,

from bad to worse …

Well, this is one of those times. Our best efforts have not gone amiss. Thanks to some good campaigning, a legal challenge and, yes credit is due, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Justice), all restrictions have been relaxed preventing prisoners from receiving books. The Campaign Books For Prisoners has been successful.

Books for Prisoners

Let’s credit English PEN and The Howard League for Penal Reform for their vigorous and engaging campaign. The Howard League was presented with the Charity Award for its campaign in June 2015.

The judicial review was brought by Barbara Gordon-Jones, a prisoner at HMP Send, and her lawyer, Samuel Genen. As a result in December 2014 the High Court declared unlawful the restrictions introduced by Chris Grayling (previous Secretary of State for Justice). But feet were dragged, information only slowly disseminated and practice took time to change.

And then, following the general Election, the Secretary of State for Justice was replaced. Michael Gove said, when he announced the change in policy,

We have more than 80,000 people in custody. The most important thing we can do once they are in prison is make sure that they are usefully employed and that they get the literacy and numeracy and other skills they need for success in work.

Channings Wood, Boundary Fence, by Roger Cornfoot December 2009 via WikiCommons

Channings Wood, Boundary Fence, by Roger Cornfoot December 2009 via WikiCommons

It is a little sad that the rationale for the new policy is framed in instrumental terms, and all about work. As a good old-fashioned liberal leftie I want books and education to be promoted for their own sakes, not just to improve the work chances of prisoners – or children and young people and students of all ages. But hey-ho, the policy has changed. The statement went on,

One of the big influences on my thinking on social policy is Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.

He believed that we should see all human beings as assets, not liabilities. I agree. Every individual has something to offer, every one of us can earn respect.

People who are currently languishing in prison are potential assets to society. They could be productive and contribute. If we look at them only as problems to be contained we miss the opportunity to transform their lives and to save ourselves and our society both money and pain.

From 1st September families and friends will be allowed to send books directly to prisoners and no longer be obliged to go through approved retailers. The limited of 12 books in cells has been lifted, but prisoners must not exceed the limits on the volume of personal possessions permitted.

Wood engraving of Elizabeth Gurney Fry reading to prisoners in Newgate Prison, London, from Bodleian Library, Oxford, via WikiCommons

Wood engraving of Elizabeth Gurney Fry reading to prisoners in Newgate Prison, London, from Bodleian Library, Oxford, via WikiCommons

Why are books important in prisons?

Let’s put aside the views of people who think being economically productive is the main duty of an adult human. Let’s ask for other reasons why books are important in prisons.

This is the view of someone who knows. Chandra Bozelko wrote this post for an American blog, Quartz, on her experiences of prison. She argues for more support for literacy training, not only for Obama’s proposed degree courses, in jail.

I was never an avid fiction reader before being incarcerated. But once inside, the last page of every novel I read arrived with an emotional thud, because I knew I would have to re-submerge myself into prison reality. Real life was never as good as the story I had been reading. To finish a book was often so disheartening that sometimes I wondered if I should even start another one, knowing how I would feel when I finished. …

Reading can save an inmate. A novel is a buoy in prison; it keeps you afloat because you can enter someone else’s life without ever leaving the facility. But not everyone in prison can read a whole book. Because I’ve witnessed that struggle first-hand, perhaps that’s why I’m one of the few who know that reforming the US corrections system means focusing on basic adult literacy—and therefore that providing university-level courses to inmates isn’t as helpful as it sounds.

We need to say this again and again – access to books is important for everyone. Books are good for you! A Report to the Reading Agency by BOP Consulting, funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation, notes that the benefits of reading include:

  • increased empathy,
  • improved relationships,
  • reduced symptoms of depression, and
  • improved wellbeing.

I’d like some of that! That’s why libraries are important. Everyone should be able to access book easily. That’s why literacy activities in prisons are important. That’s why prison libraries are important. That’s why prisoners should have adequate time out of the cells to visit libraries (reduced it appears because of cuts to prison staffing).

Check out the list of benefits again. Not only should prisoners enjoy books for their own sake, but their life chances can be enhanced by reading. Books for prisoners!

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

Two notes

Note 1: American Enterprise Institute is an American conservative think tank. Arthur Brooks might be described as a compassionate conservative. According to Wikipedia, in 2006 he wrote Who Really Cares: the surprising truth about Compassionate Conservatism. And he earned his living for a while as a French Horn player. Hmm …

Note 2: The decision by Gove means that books are no longer part of the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, or to put it another way they become an entitlement rather than a reward.

Related posts

Books for Prisoners November 2014

Books in Prison March 2014

Follow the hashtags on twitter #BooksForPrisoners and #noreadingingaol.

 

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Library cuts are pay cuts. Really!

141 warning road signRegular libraries users are facing a virtual pay cut as libraries are threatened. A report with the catchy title of Quantifying and Valuing the Wellbeing Impacts of Culture and Sport, issued by the Department for Culture and Sport, reported that library users enjoy a sense of well-being equivalent to a pay rise of £1,395 a year. Engagement with the arts adds another £1,084 a year. Every woman, man and child is threated by further public sector cuts with reductions equivalent to almost £2,500 a year. (Thanks to The Author, Summer 2014 edition for this information.)

141 G OsbWe have been told that the price of austerity is worth paying. That was the Chancellor George Osborne. He and his party are not necessarily the best judges of that and some of us doubt that they are paying any price. Economic analysts suggest that the burden of the Coalition cuts falls most heavily on the poor (and women, but that’s not my focus today).

What is more risible? The notion that culture and sport have wellbeing impacts? The attempt to quantify and value these so-called impacts? Or the knowledge that this ‘salary’, which you probably didn’t know you had from libraries and the arts will be cut by people who wouldn’t notice a rise or a cut of £2500? It is certainly not amusing that 49 branches have closed in the last 12 months.

141 warning tapesWe have been warned that there will be more cuts to public services and we know that libraries are an easier target than care for older people, holes in the roads and so forth. So Beware! Let’s remind ourselves and others of the value of libraries, and not in the language of impacts or equivalent salaries.

Access to books is a cornerstone of our cultural development and enrichment. Libraries open the door to so much. So many writers acknowledge their debt to libraries. (See my previous post.) Children especially need access to the world opened by books and other library services. Share what Neil Gaiman said about this and so well.

141 BooksforprAnd prisoners in our stuffed and under-staffed jails also need access to libraries. Much of the recent campaign for Books for Prisoners by the Howard League and English Pen related to access to books and the importance of these in prisoners’ lives. One account about the value to prisoners that moved me is by Russ Litten: What better way to rehabilitate than to read?

But library usage is declining according to the report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability(CIPFA) published 11.12.14. Is this a function of restricted access, or other restrict ions imposed by austerity (less money, fewer trips to town, fewer visitis to libraries) or a sign of a nation in cultural decline? Look at the graphics on this Guardian article dated 10.12.14.

Take action. Use libraries, celebrate them, support them and if necessary protect them!

141 warning!

How I earned my £1,395 or My library use in the last 12 month.

  • 12% of the books I have read have come from the library.
  • I frequently use the very valuable and efficient on-line reservation service.
  • I have ordered hardback books when I can’t wait for the paperback version.
  • I have borrowed books that I didn’t think I wanted to own, for example for the book group I belong to.
  • And I have reserved books on spec, perhaps they were recommended on another blog, or in the review pages of literary publications, or were short/long-listed for literary prizes, or recommended in one of those innumerable book conversations.
  • The best library book (and I’m still waiting for it to come out in paperback, when I will buy it) is Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. It won the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize, and I reviewed it here.
  • One or two books went back unread. My TBR pile clashed with other readers’ requests, or I lost interest in the book.
  • One of my writing groups was started by the librarian just over a year ago and now runs smoothly, encouraged and facilitated every two weeks in library premises.
  • The poetry group I attend is also supported by the library.

Library shelvesDSC00248

Nice work if you can get it! I earn my £1,395 a year at the library!

Any thoughts to add about libraries and access to books?

 

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Prepare for World Book Night 2015!

140 WBN 2015World Book Night 2015 is on Thursday 23rd April. There are too many lists in the world of book blogs, but I don’t hesitate to add the World Book Night list for 2015. World Book Night seems to be fading in other countries, but in the UK we have the Reading Agency to keep it strong.

140 Reading AThe purpose of World Book Night is to celebrate and promote books and reading. Apparently about 35% people do not read regularly. To reduce this proportion thousands of books from the list are given away on the night. The list is therefore intended to include lots of different kinds of books so there is something that will appeal everyone.

Here are the books for World Book Night 2015:

  1. After the Fall by Charity Norman (Allen and Unwin)
  2. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton (Constable, Little, Brown)
  3. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (HarperCollins)
  4. Chickenfeed by Minette Walters (Quick Read) (Pan Macmillan)
  5. Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson (Head of Zeus)
  6. Dead Man Talking by Roddy Doyle (Quick Read) (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
  7. Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (Pan Macmillan)
  8. Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy, Neil Astley (ed.) (Bloodaxe)
  9. Honour by Elif Shafak (Penguin General, Penguin Random House)
  10. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (Orion / Hachette Children’s)
  11. Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante (Simon & Schuster)
  12. Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House)
  13. Skellig by David Almond (Hachette Children’s)
  14. Spring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind (Hesperus)
  15. Street Cat Bob by James Bowen(Quick Read) (Hodder)
  16. The Martian by Andy Weir (Ebury, Penguin Random House)
  17. The Moaning of Life by Karl Pilkington (Canongate)
  18. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Transworld, Penguin Random House)
  19. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Two Roads, John Murray)
  20. When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman (Headline)

140 WBN_CoverGrid-thumb-300x360-12979And here’s another list.

What to do for World Book Night?

  • Visit the World Book Night 2015 web page.
  • Read a book from the list.
  • Give a friend a book from the list.
  • Give two friends two books from the list.
  • Become a volunteer for World Book Night and help give away the books.
  • Join one of the listed community activities from the web page to celebrate and promote books and reading.
  • Buy all the listed books that you don’t already own.
  • Plan to read a book from the list in your reading group around that date.
  • Make a donation to support World Book Night.
  • Leave a book from the list on a train, in a café or in some other public place to be found by a stranger.
  • Read a book from the list that you wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t included.
  • Send the link to this post by Twitter to all your followers.
  • Read all the books on the list by women (the proportion has increased from previous years, according to #readwomen2014).
  • Make/ask for a special display in your local independent bookshop.
  • Make/ask for a special display in your local library.
  • Aim to read the whole list before World Book Night 2016.

You have until 23rd April 2015 to do something! Can you add suggestions of activities to support World Book Day?

 

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Victory for Books for Prisoners

Just announced today (5th December 2014):  the High Court today ruled that the ban on books for prisoners is unlawful. In addition, Mr Justice Collins said that access to libraries in prisons is inadequate. He commented that it was ‘strange’ to refer to books as a privilege

Some days there is good news. Some days justice and good sense prevail.

For more on this see the Howard League’s website.

EnglishPEN and many writers have also been involved in this campaign.

See previous post on Bookword on November 8th for more on this.

 

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Books for Prisoners

I saw that every night that I read I was being cleansed of my sins, and that if I didn’t read I would rove the narrow, basalt-stoned, dank streets of the Castle of Sinners. I learned that not reading was to summon one’s sins. I learned that reading was the thing that tied me to life and rendered me sinless. As I read I saw that six-square-metre cell transformed into the world’s biggest centre for hermetic seclusion: a sanctuary, a colossal temple, a school where wise sages sat and debated.

As I read in prison I became myself, I returned to being myself, I added colour and harmony to my stagnant life. As I read I became myself.

(From Reading in Gaol, by Muharrem Erbey, translated from the Turkish by Erda Halisdemir. Published in The Author in Autumn 2014.)

Why does the Minister of Justice in the UK, Chris Grayling ignore the impact of the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (IEP), which limits prisoners’ access to books. And why does he ignore the effects of staffing cuts on prisoners’ access to prison libraries? Access to books in prisons is part of a dubious behaviour control policy. I have written about this before, in March 2014, see Books in Prison.

Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Steve Daniels, from Wikimedia

Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Steve Daniels, from Wikimedia

And why do Conservative MPs (my MP anyway) not engage with the issues? Actually I know the answer to that question, but it’s still frustrating! And why is Simon Hughes, Lib Dem minister at the Justice Department openly challenging Chris Grayling about so much of his prisons policy, including limiting books to prisoners (reported in the Independent on 7th November 2014).

Why does it matter?

Cover of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, in Russian, from Wikimedia

Cover of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, in Russian, from Wikimedia

I care passionately about books and education. In Norah Colvin’s phrase I am a meliorist. They are civilising influences in a world where powerful forces seem to want to revert to the worst of human nature. This government seems to represent the view that a prisoner forfeits all rights to be treated decently, as if the person is the crime.

I do not believe it is wise to make prisoners resent their treatment. Rather we should provide all possible opportunities for them to read and learn and reflect on life, their own as well as their victims, and the lives of others – in short to return to their best selves. Everyone can benefit from reading about the world, how it is, how it could be and how people live in this world.

Muharrem Erbey kept his best self alive and provides the eloquent vindication of reading in prison quoted above. He was in Diyarbakir High Security Prison for more than four years as a result of his Human Rights activities in Turkey. He determined to turn his situation to advantage by reading.

In the new worlds open to me by the books there was beauty beyond my wildest fantasies. I was free in that world. And everyone was equal. There were no walls. There were no doors that shut on people.

I wrote to my MP

Channing Woods Prison, Denbury. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, from Wikimedia

Channing Woods Prison, Denbury. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, from Wikimedia

I try to take action when I adopt a strong position on an issue. In this case I did what active British citizens can do – I wrote to my MP – Anne Marie Morris. I complained about the reduced access by prisoners to books and libraries as a result of staffing cuts to the prison service. And I asked some pertinent questions about my local prison – Channing Woods.

In February 2013 an inspection report suggested that some prisoners were spending up to 20 hours a day confined to their cells. Since then there has been unrest among the prisoners. And this summer staff voiced their own worries about staffing levels.

I would like answers to the following questions:

How often can prisoners visit the library at Channings Wood Prison?

Who runs the library at Channings Wood Prison, and what is its budget?

From which outlets can prisoners buy books in the prison?

Can prisoners get specialist books from the library if they have a hobby or are doing a course?

I received no answer to these questions, no reference to Channings Wood at all in her letter. Rather my MP responded to some points I had not made, including this statement.

There has been a considerable amount of misinformation on this issue recently. Books are not banned [this I know] – indeed all prisoners have access to the professionally run prison library service.

That’s why I was asking about access to the library at Channings Wood, especially in the light of the prison staff’s own concerns about staffing levels.

I shall have to write again.

Can you take some action?

See what writers and others concerned about this issue have been doing:

  • Salman Rushdie, Jacqueline Wilson, Monica Ali, Mark Haddon, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Maureen Freely and Joanne Harris have called for the justice select committee to consider the impact of the IEP scheme in November 2014 (details from English Pen here);
  • There was a silent protest during a House of Commons justice select committee hearing in June 2014;
  • Leading writers (Mark Haddon, AL Kennedy, Rachel Billington), protested at Downing Street, also in June 2014;
  • Publishers led by Pavilion Books organised a fundraiser event called A Night in the Cells in May 2014.
Bedford Prison. Photo by Dennis Simpson, from Wikimedia

Bedford Prison. Photo by Dennis Simpson, from Wikimedia

Campaigning has brought a small concession: prisoners will not in future be limited to 12 books per cell.

See also The Howard League for Penal Reform and English Pen for details about the campaign activities.

Follow the hashtags on twitter #BooksForPrisoners and #noreadingingaol.

 

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The Craft of Blogging (3) … my checklist for blogposts

OK! You’ve thought about what it means to write on-line, and you’ve sorted out what kind of post you are planning (this one’s another list). And if you haven’t thought about those things see my previous posts on the subjects. Now, here’s a checklist of 9 things I’ve learned to look out for in every blogpost, having now posted 94 of them. Please add your recommendation to bring it up to a big fat 10.

94 hook1. The hook

Entice the reader in, after all they have access to so many blogs. Often your hook is a question, sometimes an intriguingly presented idea. It should entice the reader and not lead to disappointment. The topic may hook readers in by itself – like this one?

2. The title

Your title may be the hook, but either way it should give the reader a clue to the content. Readers have so much choice that they may not spend time on a page, and they don’t want their surfing to be wasted by a misleading title.

3. The first paragraph

Your first paragraph is all important! It tells your reader or confirms the main theme. You can’t expect a reader to wait to the end of the post to find the rabbit in the hat. They just wont. This is true of most writing.

94.links4. Links

Hyperlinks are easy to apply and offer the reader the possibility of going somewhere they never imagined, connected to your theme. Some bloggers manage audio links as well, or links to Youtube, but I haven’t yet, and not found it necessary. I like blogs that do. ‘Links between sites are the fuel of the web*.’

 

94 Blog on tablet5. Visuals

I did my first writing in a world limited to typewriters and pens. Even biros were newfangled before I reached my teens. Much later I graduated to a word processor. I know almost nothing about the technology that allows such easy inclusion of images into blogs, but you’d be a fool not to take advantage of this added dimension. Watch those copyright issues however; copyright exists to protect the creative.

6. Length

I’ve seen it argued that the shorter the post the better. As Bookword focuses on books, reading and writing I think I can stretch my readers to about 1500 on occasion. Anyway I often find I have that many words to write. It depends on the content – more images may mean fewer words. I always edit to remove surplus words. The post you are reading is just short of 900 words.

94 tape

7. Lightness of touch

For a writer who spent 20 years in academic writing and publishing it comes as a great pleasure to be able to use humour and lightness of touch in blogposts. Of course, not every post lends itself to hilarity, or even a wry smile, but many do. I think that a blog is much more like conversations with friends than addressing an audience of students.

Lightness of touch means thinking about your readership. They are reading on a screen, want to quickly get a sense of what you are saying, absorb it in short paragraphs, without dumbing down, and with headings to guide them.

Here’s a list of points for making the text easy to scan on screen:

  • Be concise and to the point
  • Halve the word count of conventional writing
  • Keep your sentences short, and read aloud.
  • Make one point per sentence.
  • Use bulleted lists for quick reading
  • Emphasise keywords with bold (avoid CAPITALS, because they LOOK LIKE SHOUTING)

This list is from the University of York Writing for the Web pages which you can find here.

Wittiness needs to be without being too clever. (Most of my editing is to remove those over-worked, over-blown ideas I thought would include to show how clever I am. I am currently working on not including them in the first place!) These all help with readability. And you have probably developed your own style (that’s house-style Eileen).

8. Call to arms

Some bloggers recommend a call to arms, usually a question. I can see the point for campaigning posts (like mine on books for prisoners, which asked people to take some action about the restrictions on books for prisoners. Come to think of it, it’s as good a time as any to mention the campaign on Books for Prisoners that you can find at the Howard League for Penal Reform. At the very least you can ask your readers to subscribe to your blog. (See the couple of lines at the end of this and every recent post!)

9. A little bit of passion

A blogpost is better for a bit of passion, not necessarily splurging over the page, but readers like to know that you are enthusiastic about your topic. Enthusiasm and expertise are very attractive. The best blogs inspire one to more: links, reading, ideas, action, enthusiasm …

If you want perfection you could check out this infographic of THE PERFECT BLOG POST. Thank you Social Triggers.

69 ten_logo10 …

And here’s the cta: please add a 10th item to my checklist.

* according to Robin Houghton (2012) Blogging for Creatives, published by ILEX: Lewes Sussex. Her book is highly recommended for novices.

 

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