Writers including Mark Haddon, Sarah Waters and A L Kennedy will gather at Downing Street today to protest to Prime Minister David Cameron against a decision banning the sending of books and other small items to prisoners.
The authors will join English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform in presenting a letter to Number 10 signed by more than 40 high-profile figures, including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Alan Bennett, Salman Rushdie, Philip Pullman, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Barnes, Irvine Welsh, Jacqueline Wilson and Joanne Harris.
The letter says that the government’s policy, which came into force last November and is part of the Earned Privileges Scheme, is “misguided”.
“Reading goes hand in hand with education and rehabilitation, whilst research shows that informal learning reduces re-offending,” the letter continues. “We strongly urge you to reverse this harmful policy at the earliest opportunity.”
A petition against the ban on books being sent to prisoners has been signed by almost 29,000 people.
Today’s protest, part of the Books for Prisoners campaign, has been arranged after a request for Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to meet with Duffy and other writers was refused.
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN said: “We're hopeful that David Cameron will appreciate the necessity of reversing a misguided policy.
“There is already evidence of the positive and lasting benefits of access to books on prisoners. At a time of chronic overcrowding and stress in the prison population, it would be perverse to continue to deny supporting the enjoyment of a fundamental human right.”
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “That so many leading writers are urging the Prime Minister to act illustrates the growing disquiet over the ban on sending books and other essentials to prisoners.
“The Justice Secretary’s refusal to meet with us to discuss the issue has succeeded only in galvanising the campaign and baffling anyone who believes we should be broadening access to reading and not restricting it.
“This is a petty and counter-productive policy which the Ministry of Justice has tried and failed to justify with spurious arguments.
“It is surely time the government conceded a change, particularly against a backdrop of ever more overcrowding, growing unrest in prison and an alarming rise in suicides behind bars.”