Books for Prisoners

In November 2013, the Ministry of Justice introduced restrictions on families sending books to prisoners. This was part of a crackdown on what ministers have described as prisoners’ ‘perks and privileges’ 

We believe this is a misguided policy. Books should not be seen as a perk like chocolate or cigarettes. Reading literature goes hand in hand with education and rehabilitation. It can also be a calming influence in a chaotic environment.

Research shows that informal learning reduces re-offending. We should do everything we can to encourage reading and not restrict prisoners’ access to books.

We call on the Ministry of Justice to reverse this policy.

Join English PEN, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and writers including the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Sir David Hare, and Mark Haddon, in protesting this policy.


To keep the pressure on the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP, we are keen to underline the importance of literacy and reading in prisons. To this end, we will be asking authors and attendees at this week’s London Book Fair this week to recommend which book they would like to send to a prisoner and why. We’ll be publishing these recommendations online and on social media to keep the literary conversation going, and sending all the responses we receive directly to Chris Grayling MP.

If you’re attending the London Book Fair, please visit the English PEN Literary Salon in Earl’s Court 2 where you’ll have the chance to fill in a postcard with the details of the book you would recommend and why.

Even if you’re not attending the Fair, you can still let us know which book you would send to a prisoner and why via the comment box below or on social media. Please use the hashtag #booksforprisoners and include our Twitter handle – @englishpen – so that we can keep track of your responses.

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