The prison book ban is not just nasty but bizarre

Encouraging prisoners to read aids their rehabilitation.

Tim Finch is a novelist and communications director at IPPR. He writes in a personal capacity

In one country prisoners can get four days off their sentence for every book they read, in another a ban on sending books to prisoners is being introduced.

The first country – not generally known for its enlightened prison system – is Brazil; the second country – to our shame – is the UK .

The book ban is one aspect of a raft of measures introduced by justice secretary Chris Grayling which would appear to have no purpose other than to make the life of inmates just that little bit more unendurable, while making Mr Grayling look more of a tough guy to the public.  

Anyone with any heart would deplore measures that include prisoners not being allowed to receive homemade birthday cards from their children, but as the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook rightly says, the book ban is not just nasty but bizarre.

A Sao Paulo lawyer, who leads a book donation project for prisons, said about the Brazilian initiative, “a person can leave prison… with an enlarged vision of the world” as a result of the reading they do while confined. And the Guardian columnist Erwin James, who served twenty years of a life sentence before being released in 2004, has observed that “the books I read in prison… helped me to become who I should have been”.

We badly need politicians with the bravery and far sightedness to reform our criminal justice system and ensure that fewer offenders are locked up unnecessarily.

Before the change of regime at the Ministry of Justice, in which the more liberal Ken Clarke was replaced by the more authoritarian Chris Grayling, there were some heartening signs that the use of community based restorative justice and neighbourhood justice panels were being championed by the government.

Now we seem to be back to the bad old days of ‘prison works’.

Of course, even the most enlightened criminal justice system would need to include prisons, and for many crimes only a custodial sentence – sometimes a long one – is necessary and just. But as long as people are in prison, encouraging them to read, among other activities to aid their rehabilitation, is surely the way to go.

Instead with have this deeply reactionary step.

The Booker shortlisted novelist Linda Grant has already talked of a campaign by writers to fight this ban, and perhaps one thing we could all do is to deluge the prison system with books we think prisoners might like to read.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

13 Responses to “The prison book ban is not just nasty but bizarre”

  1. robertcp

    A disgraceful decision. Grayling is an idiot!

  2. Brandy Saulman Miller

    Dear Lord, I would cut out everything else before books. get rid of Sky, movie nights, and all the other luxuriates. I would never ever in a million years stop anyone from having an education and picking up a book. how many people have changed their lives through the words in a book?

  3. Silver Fang

    He’s also banned prisoners from having clean underwear sent to them by relatives.

  4. LeeSun

    It’s Frances CROOK who has described the book ban as nasty and bizarre, not Frances “Grayling”.

  5. Alan Parker

    You know, a link, reference, or some other source might be helpful here. There are only two blogs/sources I can find discussing this on the entire interwebs: leftfootforward and Neither reference any policy document.

  6. Alan Parker

    Brandy wrote: “I would never ever in a million years stop anyone from having an education and picking up a book”.

    Me too. And who is doing what you describe? Where? In what country? Or have you been taken in by a badly written, deliberately misleading and unreferenced article and extrapolated even further away from the truth? In which case, a win for Tim Finch, stupidity and gullibility, and a loss for truth and fact.

  7. CloudTiger

    People are so stupid… they will say “how can the politicians be so stupid”.

    They are not. They are evil. This book ban is pure evil, designed to worsen life and increase crime and so justify a police state.

    “We badly need politicians”. Right there is the whole failure of statist lefties… yeah, keep voting Labour, that’ll fix it. We don’t need coercive government. This current form of democracy is just a farm management tool run by demonic elitists, all controlled by blackmail and bullying in secret societies, the kind that protected Jimmy Saville and the poisonous corporations that poison our food, water and microwave our brains.

    Wake up, you ignorant fools.

  8. Spoonydoc

    Which is why a quick internet search soon finds other sites confirming that books and magazines now cannot be sent to people in prison. Further details explain that due to cuts many prison libraries are either underfunded or closing down entirely and that prisoners cannot afford to buy books themselves.

    The most accurate explanation of the new rules is probably given by the Prison Reform Trust.

    It states: “Under the rules, families are prevented from sending in basic items of stationery such as cards, paper or pens to help people in prison keep in touch with their friends and families and wish them a happy Christmas. They are also prevented from sending books and magazines or additional warm clothes and underwear to the prison.”

  9. Solonge

    I would like to know why Chris Grayling has introduced this….normally when something like this is introduced a reason is given, I have searched the internet and cannot find a reason, now that is bizarre.

  10. Eva Chiladaki

    Α book is a perfect place to hide things, but I think, prisons should take that risk.

  11. Dominique Swain

    This makes me sick. Sick, sick, sick. If people had had the opportunity and encouragement to read books BEFORE they had committed dastardly crimes, the point would probably be moot. Every experience does not need to be firsthand to gain compassion and insight and the education that prevents people from doing ignorant, awful things to one another. Shame on you, Chris Grayling.

  12. Barbara Steward

    We must stop this ban, books are a lifeline, a view of what life can be, an education, a joy to the mind. How can we send our books to prison?

  13. Puzzled

    Really? I’m not sure where you’ve been looking. See:
    For a reasonable take on the subject.

Leave a Reply