English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform have launched a digital advent calendar, featuring authors including Monica Ali, Esther Freud and David Hare, as part of their Books for Prisoners campaign.
Throughout December, writers will be recommending the books they would send to a prisoner and why. Meg Rosoff, the judge of English PEN’s annual prison writing competition, is also among the contributors, as is former judge Jake Arnott.
Books for Prisoners is an ongoing campaign against the restrictions on families and friends sending books to UK prisoners which were introduced by the Ministry of Justice in November 2013.
The campaign won a small victory in November 2014, when the Ministry of Justice agreed to increase the number of books that prisoners can keep in their cells.
However, its supporters are continuing to call on the government to overturn the ban on sending books and other essentials into prisons.
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: “The ban on sending books to prisoners is a short-sighted policy. The government’s continued resistance to overturning these restrictions in the face of continued popular protest is self-defeating.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “For the second Christmas in a row, family and friends are prevented from sending books and other essentials to loved ones in prison. These restrictions are petty and counter-productive and, as the country’s leading writers prepare to reveal the books they would like to send to prisoners, our campaign continues to garner support from across the political spectrum.”
She added: “Against a backdrop of ever more prison overcrowding, growing unrest and an alarming rise in the number of suicides behind bars, it is surely time for ministers to accept the consequences of this unkind policy and reverse it.”
The Books for Prisoners campaign has received widespread support from leading writers, such as Alan Bennett, Salman Rushdie and Ali Smith, who have written to the Ministry of Justice, the Prime Minister and the Justice Select Committee in protest at the restrictions.
They have also recommended books they would send to prisoners if the restrictions were lifted and donated books to prison libraries. In addition, international writers and former prisoners of conscience have added their voices to the campaign by contributing to Time to Read, an anthology on the importance of reading in prison.
Alongside the digital advent calendar, English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform are inviting supporters of the campaign to recommend the books that they would choose to send to prisoners and why via the hashtag #booksforprisoners.