Books For Prisoners Campaign: Major victory as court says shelve this ban

In his judgment, Mr Justice Collins said: ‘I see no good reason in the light of the importance of books for prisoners to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control and reasonable measures relating to the frequency of parcels and security considerations.’

The judge added that he did not ‘regard access through the [prison] library services as sufficient’. It was ‘strange’ to refer to books as a privilege. An open letter written by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was described as ‘misleading.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:

We are delighted at the judgment. This is welcome recognition that books are a necessity and not a privilege.

English PEN has seen the importance of reading in prison at first-hand through the direct impact on individuals in our workshops around the country.

The Government should overturn the restrictions with immediate effect. Its reluctance to address the issue, despite the public outcry and support of leading authors over the past year, has been short-sighted and self-defeating.

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

The Howard League launched the Books For Prisoners campaign nine months ago and we are very glad that common sense has now prevailed in time for Christmas, when for three weeks prisons will be virtually in lockdown. During that time, receiving a book from a loved one could literally save a life.

We now call on the Ministry of Justice to relax the ban on sending in parcels completely so that prisoners can receive essentials such as underwear and small gifts from their children. This would help to alleviate distress in prisons at a time when they are in crisis.

I hope that that the Ministry of Justice will respond to this judgment in a mature way and will not waste further public money by fighting it in the courts. Ministers should implement this decision immediately so that prisoners can get books for Christmas.

AL Kennedy, author and key supporter of the Books for Prisoners campaign, said:

Unlike the MoJ, the judge in this case has thoroughly examined the available evidence and considered what would be best practice for a prison system which hopes to function effectively and to rehabilitate prisoners. This decision allows a system in crisis to be a little more tolerable – it still fails society and operates without regard to logic, or the day-to-day reality experienced by staff and inmates. The current combination of cuts, private profiteering and bizarre dictats imposed by the MoJ has resulted in massively increased levels of violence and suicide inside our prisons, while also increasing re-offending when prisoners are released. The details of the judgement give a clear insight into the absence of common sense, consistency, or integrity in many of the MoJ’s statements and actions.

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