Booksellers given role in prison book delivery

Booksellers given role in prison book delivery

The government has relaxed the prison book ban, but said inmates can only receive parcels from four named booksellers – Waterstones, Blackwell’s, Foyles or WH Smith.

The prison book ban was relaxed from 31st January, The Bookseller understands, following a High Court ruling that the ban, brought in in November 2013, was unlawful in December.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the new rules on sending in books to prisons were to “ensure the protection and safety of prisons”.

"There never was a specific ban on books and we remain clear that we will not do anything that would create a new conduit for smuggling drugs and extremist materials into our prisons,” the MoJ spokesperson said. "In order to ensure the protection and safety of prisons, we have put in place a new system which will mean books can be sent in via an approved retailer, either online or in high street shops. Prisoners also have access to the same public library service as the rest of us, and can buy books through the prison shop.”

The spokesperson added: "We remain fully committed to rehabilitation through education and have rolled out schemes such as the Shannon Trust National Reading Network, which includes peer mentoring to improve reading levels."

Retailers have welcomed the relaxation of the book ban, with Waterstones m.d James Daunt saying: “Common sense has finally prevailed.”

Gareth Hardy, head of commercial at Blackwell’s, meanwhile, said being approved as one of the four main retailers was “all very last minute.”

“We received a letter from the Ministry of Justice last week saying that from the 31st January friends and family are allowed to buy books and send them on, but only through approved retailers and asking if we wanted to be part of it,” he said. “It is good news on both counts. It is good that prisoners will be allowed to receive books again. As to whether it will be a big sales boost for us, I’m not sure, but it will be interesting to find out.”

Sam Husain, c.e.o of Foyles, said: "The rules are that people sending in books aren't allowed to handle them, so if they brought them to the till, we would then have to take them back and get a new one to send to the prison. So we have decided to make it an online-only function, and we will know the book is going to a prison because of the delivery destination given by the buyer. It is actually quite straightforward. We were invited to be involved, I received an email from the MoJ." He added: "The reversal of the book ban is to be welcomed, it is something the Booksellers Association has campaigned hard on."  

An MoJ spokesperson told The Bookseller: “We had certain criteria to choose a retailer. They had to have a large number of shops and a large online presence and a wide range of books and cover a wide geographical area. For issues of security, we relied on retailers to have an established track record of sourcing and supplying books using a recognized courier service.”

New measures were brought in in November last year in England and Wales, preventing prisoners receiving parcels unless under “exceptional circumstances”.

In December, after a series of high profile protests form authors and campaign groups such as English PEN and the Howard League, The High Court gave its ruling after the case was brought by Barbara Goron-Jones, a life sentence prisoner at Send Jail in Surrey.

Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet said: “It's about time that the government has reviewed its policy which had placed restrictions on prisoners receiving books. Access to books plays a vital role in increasing literacy levels amongst prisoners; aiding rehabilitation and increasing job prospects when released. This is something that the Government should be supporting not preventing.”