Grayling's book ban: Prisoners should be encouraged to read more, not less

If there is one thing, more than any other, that has the potential to turn around a life in the process of being misspent on criminality, then surely it is reading and education

Share

Has the Ministry of Justice lost all sense of proportion, if not humanity? It is difficult to conclude anything else from the decision to put a blanket ban on friends and families sending so-called “small items” to prisoners. That such an embargo might apply to personal items such as birthday cards or underwear would be troubling enough, in the context of a penal system supposedly focused on rehabilitation of criminals rather than dehumanising treatment to push them further still from social norms. That it also applies to books is beyond belief.

Yes, prisons have libraries, so such a ban does not mean that those locked in their cells for up to 20 hours per day will have no reading matter whatsoever. But with institutional lending by its nature both limited and generic, and budget cuts militating against much improvement soon, the outcome is, simply, prisoners denied the opportunity to read what they wish to.

Nor does the iniquity of the move begin and end with the meanness of the measure and the boredom that is the most obvious result. If there is one thing, more than any other, that has the potential to turn around a life in the process of being misspent on criminality, then surely it is reading and education. By neutering  prisoners’ desires to expand their mental lives, the prison system is both materially undermining their opportunity to better themselves and sending an unequivocal message that the system – for which, read society – does not care.

Except that society does care. Thanks to Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the draconian restrictions have shot to public attention, and the best part of 10,000 people – including well-known authors from Philip Pullman to Linda Grant – have signed a petition calling for their immediate retraction.

So they must. It is not enough for the Ministry of Justice to point out the security issues associated with gifts sent in to prisoners. Neither is a new scheme of incentive and reward sufficient justification. Access to books ought to be an inalienable right in any civilised society. To use it as a bargaining chip is shameful, counter-productive and indefensible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

£29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

Recruitment Genius: Laser Games Supervisor

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive / Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PPC Executive/Manager is requ...

Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WMS Operations

£55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WM...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A mother and her child  

50 signs that we need to stop spreading the myth of the 'ideal mother'

Victoria Richards
Britons are enjoying a thriving sex-life well into their sixties, a survey has shown  

Surveys of people’s sex lives: how do we know what to believe?

Simon Kelner
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness