Government bans books for prisoners – let’s get it changed

This blog is apolitical down to the tippiest tips of its tippy-toed toes. But there are, now and again, things that cause us to splutter into our pink gins.

Astonishingly, Chris Gayling, the Justice Minister, has decided that prisoners should no longer be allowed to receive books from outside. Or home-made cards from their children. Or even underwear, meaning that some women have to wear the same knickers and bra for months. To be quite clear, the rules do not state that you only get access to these things if you comply with the prison rules and are generally well-behaved. They state that you don’t get them, full stop. (If you want to read more, check out Frances Cook’s excellent blog here. In her words, ‘the ban on receiving books is a blanket decision, so no matter how compliant and well behaved you are, no prisoner will be allowed to receive books from the outside.’)

As a crime novelist and one whose father was a Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord, I feel amply qualified to confirm your suspicion that these rules are contemptible, loathsome, stupid, mean-spirited, barbaric, vindictive, cretinous, counter-productive, ugly, abusive, and detestable. More suited to Iran or China than the United Kingdom. Yukkety-yukkety-yukkety-yuk. My father, whose legal career wasn’t exactly rubbish, would have been appalled.

But you, my friend and reader, can change the world. Just go here to add your name to a petition to get these rules overturned. Add your name, then email, blog and tweet your views. Let’s get these rules changed, and changed fast.

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  • John Taylor

    Bizarre, illogical, unjust and cruel. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, Harry.

  • Am with you, Harry. I cannot see how not allowing people to READ can help at all…

  • Owen Huckle

    I don’t mean to rain on the anger parade, but isn’t there a bit more to it than this? Prisoners are apparently free to order any book they want through the prison library service. It’s just that they can’t receive books from the outside. It’s not about stopping people reading. It’s about stopping all sorts of other things getting into prisons.

  • Harry

    Theoretically prisoners can buy books from prison earnings (approx £10 a week). They can also ‘order’ books via the library service which is massively underfunded and simply doesn’t work in many cases. The reality of the change in rules is that prisoners are being denied easy access to reading matter. But also – for example – to underwear, or anything else that prisoners used to receive from outside. Do also note that prison governors and inspectors have never suggested that inspecting incoming packages is an overwhelming administrative burden. This change came from the top down, not because those running prisons asked for it or needed it.