BA joins prison book ban protest

BA joins prison book ban protest

The Booksellers Association has urged the justice secretary to rethink the prison book ban policy.

BA chief executive Tim Godfray has written to justice secretary Chris Grayling arguing that reading books in prisons could reduce re-offending. He also made a case for encouraging reading in prisons to be part of future prison strategy.

Godfray said: “In all the reports I have read, all the experts seem to agree with the premise that books can play a pivotal role in preventing prisoners from re-offending.  In particular, those ex-prisoners who have good literacy skills stand a much better chance of being employed after release.” He continued: “Yet the changes your department has introduced so that books can no longer be sent to prisoners from outside the prisons will inevitably reduce considerably the access that individual prisoners have to books.”

Godfray said that the acute shortage of literacy skills amongst prisoners was predictably reflected in qualification levels, with a 2005 DFES study revealing that 52% of male prisoners and 71% of female prisoners have no qualifications at all, while a Prison Reform Trust study in 2008 suggested that 48% of prisoners have a reading level at or below Level 1, while an even greater proportion (65%) have a numeracy level at or below Level 1.

The letter argues that local authority and prison service financial cutbacks have led to prison libraries stocking far fewer books and having “a considerably reduced service.” It adds: “So much so that some prisons don’t, in effect, have a library at all.  And those that do, access to the prison library can sometimes be restricted to as little as one visit every six weeks.”  

Godfray said the restrictions on sending books to prisoners, in addition to restricted access to prison libraries, made it “as difficult as possible” even for determined readers in prison populations to maintain a reading habit.  “This further impacts on the non-reading majority as it reduces the potential for a learning culture within prisons,” he said.

His letter ended with a plea. “Please will you think again about this policy, and go back to the old system of permitting books to be sent to prisoners from outside the jails?  I do hope that will be possible.”

The letter follows weeks of protest by famous literary figures such as Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan over the ministry of justice’s ban on people sending books to prisoners. The ban is part of a wider system of "incentives and earned privileges", designed to encourage prisoners to earn rewards such as access to goods by reaching certain levels of behaviour.

Grayling has agued that the restrictions on access to parcels by prisoners are necessary because “of the need to limit the ability of offenders to get hold of drugs and contraband.”. He said prisoners have always enjoyed and continue to enjoy full rights of access to all the titles available through the local public library service, which operates a full service in all of our prisons.

The SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon yesterday (1st May) also wrote to Grayling to urge him to improve book provision in prisons.