Prisons minister defends book 'ban'

Prisons minister defends book 'ban'

Justice ministers have responded to criticism over a ban on prisoners being sent books, by insisting that prisoners do have access to books through prison libraries.

The ban on receiving private parcels of books, alongside other items such as clothing, stationery and specialist magazines, is part of a wider system of "incentives and earned privileges", designed to encourage prisoners to earn rewards such as access to goods by reaching certain levels of behaviour. Prison governors have discretion to allow packages sent in from outside only under exceptional circumstances, such as allowing medical supplies or items for religious observance.

A petition calling on Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling to perform a U-turn on the policy has attracted more than 6,000 signatures in 24 hours. The issue was raised in an opinion piece by the Howard League for Penal Reform's chief executive, Frances Crook, which condemned the "nasty" and "bizarre" decision. A number of authors condemned the fact that prisoners could no longer receive books, with author Mark Haddon taking to Twitter to call the move "appalling", while Baileys Prize judge Mary Beard said: "Books educate & rehabilitate. Crazy to ban them being sent to prisoners in jail."

Crime novelist Ian Rankin signed the online petition, and said: "From visits to prisons and talking to prisoners I know how important books can be in promoting literacy and connecting prisoners to society."

In a statement, prisons minister Jeremy Wright said: "The notion we are banning books in prisons is complete nonsense. All prisoners can have up to 12 books in their cells at any one time, and all prisoners have access to the prison library. Under the incentives and earned privileges scheme, if prisoners engage with their rehabilitation and comply with the regime they can have greater access to funds to buy items including books."

Crook responded on Politics.co.uk, and said: "The reality is that most prisoners on an 'entry' or 'standard' regime will be allowed no more than £10 or £15.50 a week, which means that almost all a prisoner's weekly allowance would be spent on just one title. Even the most ardent book lovers tend not to spend all of their weekly wage on what they read."

Labour's Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said: "This sums up the skewed priorities of a justice secretary who has no solutions to the problems in our prisons. If he wanted to truly rehabilitate prisoners David Cameron's government would be encouraging reading, not making it more difficult than it already is."

Human rights organisation Liberty called on people to sign the petition, making a mock book jacket of The Book Thief, featuring Grayling.