Books for Prisoners advent calendar launched

Monica Ali, Esther Freud and David Hare among leading authors featured in Books for Prisoners advent calendar

English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform are launching a digital advent calendar featuring leading authors and supporters of their ongoing Books for Prisoners campaign. Throughout December, writers including Monica Ali, Esther Freud and David Hare will be recommending the books they would send to a prisoner and why. Meg Rosoff, the judge of English PEN’s annual prison writing competition, currently open for submissions, is also among the contributors, as is former judge Jake Arnott.

View the advent calendar here

The calendar has been produced by English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform as part of an ongoing campaign against the restrictions on families and friends sending books to UK prisoners which were introduced by the Ministry of Justice in November 2013. While the campaign won a small victory in November 2014, with the Ministry of Justice agreeing to increase the number of books that prisoners can keep in their cells, the campaign’s many supporters are continuing to call on the government to overturn the ban on sending books and other essentials into prisons. This will be the second seasonal period that family and friends have been unable to send books and other packages to loved ones in prison.

The Books for Prisoners campaign has received widespread support from leading writers, as well as from the general public. Supporters including Alan Bennett, Jackie Kay, Salman Rushdie and Ali Smith have written to the Ministry of Justice, the Prime Minister and the Justice Select Committee in protest at the restrictions. They have also recommended books they would send to prisoners if the restrictions were lifted and donated books to prison libraries, including the newly established Book Rooms at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. International writers and former prisoners of conscience have added their voices to the campaign by contributing to Time to Read, an anthology on the importance of reading in prison.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:

The ban on sending books to prisoners is a short-sighted policy.

The government’s continued resistance to overturning these restrictions in the face of continued popular protest is self-defeating.

English PEN has seen the positive impact of reading on prisoners in workshops across the country. The government should be doing everything it can to promote access to books rather than limiting the possibility.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

For the second Christmas in a row, family and friends are prevented from sending books and other essentials to loved ones in prison.

These restrictions are petty and counter-productive and, as the country’s leading writers prepare to reveal the books they would like to send to prisoners, our campaign continues to garner support from across the political spectrum.

Against a backdrop of ever more prison overcrowding, growing unrest and an alarming rise in the number of suicides behind bars, it is surely time for ministers to accept the consequences of this unkind policy and reverse it.

English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform are also inviting supporters of the campaign to recommend the books that they would choose to send to prisoners and why via the hashtag #booksforprisoners.

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