Prisoners win right to keep more books in their cells following year-long campaign

Campaigners hail small but positive victory

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Prisoners have won a “small but positive” victory with the decision by the Ministry of Justice to allow them to each keep more than 12 books in their cells.

The concession was made after the year-long Books for Prisoners campaign against restrictions on book ownership in prisons. The campaign has won the support of literary figures including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Alan Bennett.

Tens of thousands of people have voiced their concerns in a campaign led by the Howard League against the restrictions imposed in November 2013.

The 12-book limit was imposed at the same time as the controversial move to ban the UK’s 88,000 prisoners from being sent books by friends or relatives.

The Howard League hailed the end of the 12-book limit as a welcome retreat by the Ministry of Justice but said the ban on being sent books still needs to be repealed.

“What they’ve done here is a small but positive step in the right direction,” said Andrew Neilson of the Howard League. ”It’s clear it’s a result of our campaign.

“It’s not quite what we want – we want the ban on friends and family lifted – but it’s clear the Ministry of Justice is on the back foot and has retreated.”

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, which campaigns for freedom of expression, added: “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.”

The MoJ’s response: An MoJ spokeswoman said: "Prisoners' access to reading material has never been curtailed and we encourage prisoners to access books via libraries. There has been a small change to prison guidelines introducing governor discretion to allow prisoners to have extra books in their cells within permitted space limits.

"We do not, and never have, allowed parcels to simply come in unfettered in order to prevent contraband being smuggled in.”