Restriction on prisoners' book collections eased

Restriction on prisoners' book collections eased

The number of books prisoners are allowed to keep in their cells has been increased, after a campaign from authors, charities and members of the public.

An "urgent" policy update has been sent to prison governors around the country by the National Offender Management Service, which is now allowing prisoners to have more than 12 books in their cell at any one time.

However there are conditions: the number of books a prisoner is now allowed is based on "volumetric control", a measure of their overall number of possessions. Whereas previously they could only 12 books in their cell, they can now have as many as they choose as long as they do not exceed their overall volume of possessions.

Protests against prison policies on books were sparked earlier in the year after it was revealed that people could no longer send books to prisoners, as part of a wide-ranging change to prisoner rewards and privileges. The Howard League for Penal Reform, along with English PEN, has led a campaign urging the Ministry of Justice to change the new rules, with backing from writers such as poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie, Alan Bennett, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro and Kathy Lette.

Tens of thousands of people also signed a petition against the ban on sending books to prisoners. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said that while allowing prisoners to possess more books was a important step, it would carry on campaigning to overturn the ban.

"'This is an important victory for our campaign," Crook said. "It is encouraging that the government has recognised the important role that books can play in rehabilitation. But the campaign does not stop here. Petty and counter-productive restrictions on sending books and other essentials to prisoners remain in place, and calls for the Ministry of Justice to fully reverse its policy are only getting louder against a backdrop of ever more overcrowding, growing unrest and an alarming rise in the number of suicides behind bars."

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: 'Lifting this restriction is a positive step, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem: how do prisoners get the books in the first place? Access to prison libraries remains extremely limited, and the ban on family sending books directly to inmates is still in force. The Ministry of Justice must urgently rethink its Incentives and Earned Privileges policy."