‘Justice’ secretary Chris Grayling is a stupid man and, true to form, he has done something stupid: he has banned prisoners from being sent books.
According to this piece by the CEO of the excellent Howard League for Penal Reform, ‘The ban on receiving books is a blanket decision, so no matter how compliant and well behaved you are, no prisoner will be allowed to receive books from the outside.’ (It should be noted that this small-packet ban applies to socks and underwear too, which is a more obvious humiliation.)
Now, you might find this unlikely but Spear’s has some experience with prisons and books. Every year we have our Book Awards, as part of which publishers send us many books – many more than we can send out to judges, take ourselves or give to colleagues.
Previously we had donated them to Oxfam but I wanted to do a more obviously reading-related good with them, so we checked to see if prisons would accept them. They won’t directly, but we could go via the Prison Radio Association. So, the PRA picked up over £2,500 of books covering everything from fiction and finance to biographies and art, some small paperbacks, some large and glossy hardbacks, and I assume they reached their destinations.
But last year when we tried to do the same thing, we were told the PRA wouldn’t take them. Why? Good question – we got no answer.
So, people who want to donate books to prisons can’t, and people who want to send books to their incarcerated friends and relatives can’t. Thank goodness prisoners are now being protected from the scourges of literacy, of knowledge, of expanded horizons, of other moral universes, of hope!
Prison is meant to be a mixture of punishment and rehabilitation, but if books – those Trojan horses of ideas – are banned, we can safely assume that rehabilitation is taking a back seat. I hope Grayling reverses his foolish decision, but judging by his obstinacy with legal aid cuts, it seems unlikely.
Perhaps some former politico-jailbird colleague of his – Chris Huhne, Lord Hanningfield – can tell him what books mean to prisoners.