Labour MP urges Grayling to reconsider prison policy

Labour MP urges Grayling to reconsider prison policy

The Ministry of Justice has said it will allow independent booksellers to “apply online” to become approved retailers to deliver books to prisons.

The new development comes after a Labour MP called for justice secretary Chris Grayling to rethink his policy of only allowing chain retailers to deliver books to prisoners. 

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) revealed earlier this month that it had reversed its decision to ban prisoners from receiving books sent to them by friends and family, following a High Court ruling in December which deemed that the so-called “book ban” was unlawful.The new delivery rules stipulated that prisoners could receive books, but only if they were delivered by four approved chain retailers—Waterstones, Blackwell’s, W H Smith and Foyles—to “ensure the protection and safety of prisons”. Now the MoJ has updated its rules again to allow indies to apply online to be approved for book deliveries to prisons via its website, following press enquiries from The Bookseller. 

Before the latest rule change, independent bookseller Ross Bradshaw, who owns Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham and its publishing imprint of the same name, contacted his MP, Lilian Greenwood, to express his grievance that independent bookshops were barred from sending books into prisons. The issue is close to Bradshaw’s heart, as two people connected with his shop—writers’ workshop organiser Pippa Hennessy and Fives Leaves imprint author Andy Croft—have worked to deliver writing projects to prisoners in the past. 

Greenwood responded by writing to Grayling, urging him to come up with a more “sensible” plan which will mean indies can deliver books to prisoners. She said: “The government’s ban on sending books to prisoners was always an absurd policy and could have been damaging to their rehabilitation. I remain concerned that a prisoner’s friends or relatives can still only order books through major retailers and that independent bookshops are excluded.This will limit the range of books available to prisoners—particularly second-hand copies—and will drive up costs for families wanting to support loved ones in the prison system.”

Tim Godfray, c.e.o. of the Booksellers Association, also said he would work with the MoJ in order to allow indies to deliver to prisoners. “We are delighted about the MoJ’s decision to involve booksellers, and the BA will now discuss with the MoJ how other booksellers might be included on the ‘approved’ list,” he said.

Other indie staffers have criticised the MoJ policy. Lee Mason, owner of Beccles Books in Suffolk, said: “I am aggrieved by it more in theory than in practice. I would like to have the ability to send prisoners books, or for their families to order them through me. Does the ministry think that small shops are less trustworthy than bigger businesses? Because I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to that thinking.”

Meanwhile Nick Bottomley, owner of Bath bookshop Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, added: “I think they could come up with an accreditation scheme, so as long as a security check has been made and they are obviously a reputable business, a member of the Booksellers Association, then they should allow us to deliver books to prisons. It does seem unfair.”

A Prison Service spokesman 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 initial list of approved retailers, either online or in high street shops. Independent booksellers can apply online for the chance to be added to this list.”