Books for Prisoners: Letter to David Cameron

As part of the ongoing Books for Prisoners campaign, leading authors will gather at Downing Street today to deliver the following letter to David Cameron

27 June 2014

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing to draw your attention to the ongoing Books for Prisoners campaign and to ask for your support.

Restrictions on families and friends sending books to prisoners were introduced by the Ministry of Justice in November 2013 as part of a crackdown on what ministers have described as prisoners’ ‘perks and privileges’.

We believe this is a misguided policy. Reading goes hand in hand with education and rehabilitation, whilst research shows that informal learning reduces re-offending. It can also be a calming influence in a chaotic environment. We should be doing everything we can to encourage reading in prisons, and certainly not be restricting prisoners’ access to books. We are therefore calling on the government to reverse this policy in order to end restrictions which prevent families and friends sending books, and other essentials to prisoners.

Fellow writers from across the UK are joining the protest against these restrictions, whilst tens of thousands of people have shown their support for the campaign on social media and by signing a petition.

The campaign has received media coverage across the world and the government’s stance has been condemned by international writers and former prisoners of conscience including Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. An equivalent campaign has now been launched in Russia.

In April 2014, leading authors joined English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform in writing to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, to request a meeting to discuss our concerns about the restrictions and the impact that they have already been seen to have in prisons across the UK.

We were extremely disappointed that Mr Grayling did not agree to a meeting.

In light of the Ministry of Justice’s failure to engage with our concerns, we are bringing the issue to the attention of your office. We strongly urge you to reverse this harmful policy at the earliest opportunity. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in order to further discuss the matter.

We look forward to your response.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN

Lisa Appignanesi

Jeffrey Archer

Chloe Aridjis

Julian Barnes

Alex Bellos

Alan Bennett


Rachel Billington

Susannah Clapp

Jenny Diski

Margaret Drabble

Carol Ann Duffy

Samantha Ellis

Lissa Evans

Michael Frayn

Maureen Freely

Victoria Glendinning

Linda Grant

Mark Haddon

Miriam Halahmy

Sir David Hare

Joanne Harris

Jackie Kay

Dennis Kelly

AL Kennedy

Hari Kunzru

Kathy Lette

Sophie Mayer

Pauline Melville

Andrew Motion

Susie Orbach

John O’Farrell

Ruth Padel

Philip Pullman

Vanessa Redgrave

Salman Rushdie

Elif Shafak

Simon Stephens

Jack Thorne

Marina Warner

Sarah Waters

Irvine Welsh

Alex Wheatle

Jacqueline Wilson

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18 Comments on “Books for Prisoners: Letter to David Cameron”

  1. I must have missed the opportunity to sign this letter and I am very sorry that I did. I worked in a major prison as a Writer in Residence for fifteen years. It is impossible to calculate the value that reading has for offenders. In at least two cases I know personally good books have challenged offending patterns and changed lives. Many offenders who have learned to read but have bunked off school and fallen into crime are stunned when introduced to good literature. They have the time to read it and to ponder it too. There are lots of literacy programmes but there is very little for the already literate or semi-literate. It is so outrageous to deny prisoners books that I really could not believe the government could seriously contemplate this but alas it does seem to be true. An offender whose life is changed is one who will make no more victims.

  2. Very pleased to support this campaign as books are the ultimate civilising influence on human behaviour and everyone should have access to books whatever their circumstances.

  3. Quite appalled by this horrible withdrawing of books from prisoners. Books are not only a privilege but a right in all circumstances in the free world and your letter is excellent.

  4. Anyone who works with ‘potential offending’ groups in the UK/overseas *know * THE LAST THING those of us who are banged up need is a lack of access to books!

    I’ve – and my exended family too – have been involved with visiting /corresponding with offenders on death row USA, ‘life-ers’ USA, Cat A UK and with some horrific African cases – so I feel strongly about access to printed material for prisoners. Bit of an example as to why – here –
    Just a couple of books can TRULY change our own perception of the world – and of our own behaviour. This is even more of a powerful tool for those of us who never grew up with books as our surrogate parents!

    As a writer who touches on politics and class – I cannot imagine anything better than an inmate reading my work and thinking a bit more about society and how to change their behaviour. And i know that many of the INDIE publishers (like Blue Moose) are already quietly putting their hands in their very poor in comparison to the huge book selling pockets to try and educate prisoners.

    This is a brilliant campaign. Will do anything that i can to help.
    Chris Longden

  5. PS – if my previous comment is too wordy – please feel free to put anything shorter! I don’t mind! I just want to try and tell others about this incredibly important campaign. Please count me in on it all (and am sure that the same will go for Blue Moose – who will be in touch…) good luck!

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