Why banning books in prisons is ludicrous, & will only serve to damage further the families left behind

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New rules introduced by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, have banned family and friends from sending in books, and other reading materials, to prisoners. As of now, anyone serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, will not be able to receive a book from the outside world. This is, according to Grayling, due to lack of staff (read: cuts), to check all parcels for ‘Contraband’ (i.e. drugs). So whether it’s a favourite book chosen by your son, or a homemade card sent in by your daughter, as a prisoner you can kiss them goodbye.All part of, in my eyes, an increasingly ludicrous punishment scheme that clearly denies offenders a decent chance of rehabilitation, and therefore an opportunity to break what is often a cycle of misery for the families left behind.

These new rules on what possessions a prisoner can and cannot have, are not consistent with every prison, and restrictions are supposed to encourage prisoners to comply with the rules. Fine, says I. The point of prison is after all, to punish and deter (and then rehabilitate), and good behaviour should indeed be rewarded. But a blanket ban on the receiving of books in prison is blindly unfair and counter-productive, and means that no matter how well behaved you’ve been, you will not be allowed to receive one.

The children of prisoners are the unwitting victims of this decision. This seemingly spiteful action of disallowing even the most innocent of homemade literary fare, serves to potentially sever what are possibly already strained and irregular relations with their absent parent. Especially hard when you might live, say, a 3 hour drive from said prison, and visiting regularly is limited (I speak from experience here). Any connection you can make as a child/young person with your parent, no matter how small, is crucial.

But back to the books. Whilst no one likes the idea of Napper, West,  Huntley et al, having access to TVs, PS4s and a full library, the fact is, the vast majority of prisoners in the UK are relative ‘petty’ criminals, and of which too greater proportion continue to re-offend. Whilst my Dad was serving time at HMP North Sea Camp, Lincs (A category D prison for prisoners not considered dangerous), he continued to see the same faces reappear after several months of release. Many would come to him to ask for help with reading, writing and filling out legal forms, clearly un, or at best, severely under-educated.

So it was of no surprise to me to hear that a third of such prisoners have serious problems with literacy (over six times the rate in the general population). Poor literacy is connected to difficulty understanding the relationship between actions and consequences. It has been proven that improving literacy in prisons significantly reduces the rate of re-offending. Anyone who has helped adults or older children with reading difficulties will tell you it’s much easier if they have material they find interesting i.e. topical magazines or ‘easy’ books.

My solution would be quite simple.  Loved ones put money into prisoners’ accounts, and the prisoner then buys books/magazines from a government source, possibly even at cost so they can then buy more books. Then there would be fewer staff needed to check these ‘homemade cards’ sent in by children, for contraband.

I’m sure there are people reading this who believe that prisoners deserve everything they get, and that tax payers shouldn’t foot the bill for a ‘free education’, when they’re already paying thousands for their kid to get a degree in a cosy, red brick institution.

Well the majority of men and women inside ARE paying their dues, and getting books from family and meaningful cards from little ones costs Sweet FA for “tax payers”. And if you truly believe that someone can get the same level of education in prison as a student gets in any one of our university establishments here in the UK, then frankly i’d want my money back.

It is in our interests for prisoners to be rehabilitated and re-educated, and it’s the children of those inmates who will reap the rewards of this.

Keep books in prisons, and give these families the chance of a better future.

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  1. Fab
    March 28, 2014 / 6:44 am

    I think this is a subject that will not be understood by bitter victims of crime, who would like to see everything taken away.

    But the truth is, these prisoners are more than likely going to be allowed back into society, and if that is the case, they should be given the tools inside prison to be rehabilitated.

    • March 28, 2014 / 8:13 am

      I think that’s the thing, if the prisoners are to be released, it serves everyone better if they are given the tools to be rehabilitated, in particular their families. I do have every sympathy though with victims of crime, and i’m not sure i’d be able to sit quite as on the fence if myself or a loved one had been hurt, especially if that person showed little remorse. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Jo
    March 28, 2014 / 7:21 am

    I agree partly with what you are saying but prisoners have access to libraries. The prison I’ve been working in has a huge library
    Books are a perfect place to hide items which aren’t allowed in prison and even messages and information which wouldn’t be allowed.
    The government haven’t banned people from sending in cards and letters.
    If a prisoner wants to read books and have access to the library then they should earn the privilege to do so. If they want to read then they will earn the privilege, in the same way that if a loved one sent them a book then they would pick it up and read it if they wanted to

  3. March 28, 2014 / 8:17 am

    Thanks for your comment, Jo. My understanding was that prisoners were no longer allowed to receive anything deemed ‘reading material’, so whilst letters are still allowed, things like cards are not? Agree with the point that they’re used to hide contraband items/messages, which is why i’d say a book buying scheme from a trusted site/source is the way forward.

    • Jo
      March 31, 2014 / 11:39 am

      No, they are allowed cards and letters from home and friends just not books.
      Think about the time spent by the individuals who check the packages sent in for prisoners-a quick glance at a letter or card or time spent scouring each page of a book?
      As I said earlier there are libraries in the prisons and I can’t speak for all prison but the one I have been working in has a huge library which is probably as well stocked as the library in our local town so I don’t see a need for a book scheme.

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