Books ban condemned by Prison Reform Trust

Books ban condemned by Prison Reform Trust

Charity The Prison Reform Trust has said new prison regulations, which ban books, as well as other parcels, being sent to prisoners, are harming the welfare of prison inmates.

Writers and human rights groups have already condemned the rules which were introduced last year, with Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett and Salman Rushdie among those protesting.

In a new report titled "Punishment Without Purpose", the Prison Reform Trust claims that the new regulations, which are designed to restrict rewards and encourage positive behaviour, harm the welfare of prisoners, "eliciting a strong sense of injustice in prisons and undermining opportunities for effective rehabilitation".

One prisoner was quoted in the report saying that his attempts to educate himself were damaged by the rules. He said: "I am about to start a distance learning course. A friend of mine has done all these courses and is fully qualified and was going to send me all his books but we can’t have books sent in anymore."

A mother of a prisoner, also quoted in the report, said: "We have heard a lot about the ban on books in recent weeks. But this is the one tangible link you can have with your family: … ‘I thought you might enjoy this – I did’ or ‘a few crosswords to keep you busy’. This prohibition isn’t only about reducing opportunities for learning. It also removes the last possibility of a gift, a tangible piece of human warmth."

Justice secretary Chris Grayling has defended the moves, and said that the parcel ban helps keep drugs and other illicit materials out of prisons.

But the report quotes Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, who said: "For decades prison officers have dealt with parcels. They searched them. The reality is it was never really a problem. Now and then people tried to smuggle drugs in that way. But as professional prison officers we found these items. The majority of these books and magazines that came in didn’t have any drugs in them at all. People have been having their books sent in for 20, 30 years and now all of a sudden it’s become a big issue for the secretary of state."

The report recommends that the new regulations are urgently reviewed.