This ban on prisoners receiving books won't help cut re-offending

Inmates should be encouraged to read as much as they like

Share

Dostoevsky would be narked. “The degree of civilisation in a society”, he once said, “can be judged by entering its prisons.” In the UK, that degree of civilisation might now also be judged by what is not entering prisons. Crime and Punishment – along with the rest of Dostoevsky’s writing, and, in fact, all other books - may no longer be sent to inmates residing in any of the UK’s correctional facilities. Mercifully, the right to stare at a wall and marinate slowly in guilt, fury and boredom has been left untouched.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – among the busiest parliamentarians in Westminster - perhaps hasn’t had the time to pick up a copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. If he had, surely the contradictions of his drive to improve the justice system would by now be obvious. On the one hand Grayling wants to cut re-offending through reforms to the probation system. On the other he seems willing to demean prisoners by making it harder to access books, and – as part of last year’s toughening of punishments - watch 18-rated movies or go to the gym. The line of thought seems to be: the state will treat prisoners like wayward children when they are behind bars, then hope that, on their release, the private contractors hired under the new probation system will iron out any problems this causes and turn the formerly-incarcerated into conscientious, kind members of the outside world.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman has said the ban exists to shore up an existing incentives scheme to reward good behaviour, and points out the availability of books in a prison libraries. Some of the outrage at it may stem from the tastes of the bleeding-heart liberal, who imagines that a spell in jail would be perfect for catching up on somebody or other's collected works. I'll admit to that: watch a documentary like Shakespeare Behind Bars (2005) – which charts a performance of The Tempest - and part of you starts to believe that every prison could be stocked full of unfulfilled Shakespeare lovers, willing to be set on the path to redemption through Elizabethan blank-verse. But then again, why not? Two recent studies claimed respectively that harsher prison conditions do not reduce re-offending, and that youth crime is driven by "a lack of moral and cognitive development" - the kind of thing the arts should help with - not opportunism.

Of course the problems with the UK’s prison system go far deeper than the availability of reading material: overcrowding for one, as well as a lack of activities and mental health support. But with those problems as expensive to address as they are, how can it possibly help matters to prevent prisoners from reading as much as possible, from as many sources as they can? Grayling’s ban is short-sighted and counter-productive. Reading opens up the minds and motivations of other people. Someone should write a book about what it feels like to have too little to do, for years, in a cell – and post it to the Justice Secretary. He might learn something useful.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test