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Books in prison

(40 Posts)
Nennypops Sat 29-Mar-14 09:56:20

I'd be amazed if this hasn't been discussed on MN, but if it has I can't find it.

It's about the new rules saying prisoners can't be sent books. The excuses given seem to be:

1. You can have up to 12 books from the prison library. Great, if you're allowed access to the library. Apparently in some prison staffing limitations are such that you can go weeks, if not months, between visits. You'd have to be an incredibly slow reader for that to be adequate.

2. Prisoners should earn privileges, and they can buy books out of what they earn from working in prison. I'm really not too sure that the basic ability to read should be regarded as a privilege, but again it's unrealistic. Not every prisoner is able to work - not least because again there is a shortage of jobs in prisons available to prisoners - and if they are, they earn at best around £8 pounds a week. Out of that they have to pay for phone cards, stamps and stationery, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc etc. Given the price of books, it would take weeks to save up enough.

3. Friends and relatives can give them the money to buy books. That's if they can afford it, of course. And, if I have a book that I want to lend to a friend in prison, why should I have to give him the money to buy a duplicate? What should I do if the book is out of print?

4. It's too much hassle doing security checks on things sent to prisoners. Fine, but why not make sensible exceptions? How hard is it to pass a book through a scanner to check nothing is being smuggled in? If they're worried about books telling people how to make bombs or drugs, again it really doesn't take long to have a quick look through, and they can ban books in foreign languages or science books. It's not like they're having crates of books sent in, it seems to me that the time this takes is a small quid pro quo for the simple civilised act of allowing prisoners to read.

meditrina Sat 29-Mar-14 10:03:50

The IEP covers much more than just books.

It's been running for 5 months now, apparently without difficulty or complaint. Any signs that it's achieving (or as early days, set to achieve) what it was intended to do?

givemeaclue Sat 29-Mar-14 10:06:12

Well, they are all in there voluntarily!

Surely it would bee a massive task to check every book wS appropriate, it's not a quick flick through is it?

Nennypops Sat 29-Mar-14 10:39:52

Why a massive task, give? It's not like thousands, or even hundreds, of books were being sent into prisons before. In most cases, it would be a quick flick, because prison officers generally know which prisoners are being sent books for genuine purposes and which ones to be careful with. Even then, you can go through a book pretty quickly to check it or, if push comes to shove, there is software available which can scan for key words and phrases. You wouldn't even have to scan the whole book, scanning every 20 pages or so would be sufficient.

Nennypops Sat 29-Mar-14 10:43:45

Further point, give. Aside from the people not in prison voluntarily due to wrongful conviction, what on earth does it gain to say 'you're here voluntarily, you're not allowed to read'? I hope you would agree that it benefits everyone if people in prison get rehabilitated and maybe get some qualifications - how does preventing them from getting a reasonable chance of reading books promote any of that?

givemeaclue Sat 29-Mar-14 14:12:04

They can read, you said yourself there are libraries, they can buy books etc. nobody is stopping them from reading. Reading does not rehabilitate prisoners or stop them reoffending.

NigellasDealer Sat 29-Mar-14 14:13:29

Reading does not rehabilitate prisoners or stop them reoffending
it just might though.

givemeaclue Sat 29-Mar-14 14:23:00

Well great, if it stops them reoffending, they can get library books. In between library visits they can swap the 12 books they have around between themselves. The reoffending rate will not increase because prisoners can't get books by post.

Nennypops Sat 29-Mar-14 16:09:07

Give, did you actually bother to read the original post? The point is that, in some prisons, people can't just get library books. They can go for weeks or months at a time between permitted visits to libraries. Equally, for the reasons I gave, they can't just buy books at the drop of a hat.

And being able to swop library books around is hardly the answer. If you were in prison and your taste ran to, say, history books, it wouldn't help you to be able to swop with five other prisoners if their tastes were chicklit, detective stories, travel books, thrillers, and sports biographies, would it?

What precisely do you suggest is to be gained by banning people from sending in books? And how does it outweigh the benefits?

givemeaclue Sat 29-Mar-14 16:25:07

If you can't do time, don't commit the crime!

Nennypops Sat 29-Mar-14 21:04:29

Oh,please, not that tired old cliché. Any chance of answering the question what possible benefit there is to be gained from preventing prisoners from reading? Is it really better for them to spend their time watching telly or staring into space?

SuburbanRhonda Sat 29-Mar-14 21:16:23

Just thought I'd mention that I have been writing for 23 years to a prisoner on Death Row in a maximum security prison in the US.

I have always been allowed to send him books, ordered from and sent direct to the prison. Previously any book I ordered had to be from a list of approved books (the prisoner put the titles in for approval and the prison authorities approved them, or not).

Earlier this year, they decided to relax the rules so that there is no longer an approved book list. Basically I can send him any book I want to, though it is still checked by the post room.

The prisoner I've been writing to has studied German, physics, ancient history and many other subjects, with the help of the books I've been allowed to send in.

TheFantasticFixit Sat 29-Mar-14 21:28:27

Give: the ability to educate prisoners and offenders, through self and directed study is proven to reduce the reoffending rate actually. We aren't just talking violence fiction that is banned here, we are talking ALL books. There is also a deeper issue with self regulation and responsibility for ones future here as well. Books feed the mind, they expand horizons, offer escapism, and educate whether through fiction. This move from Chris Grayling is very disappointing and will only serve (along with his varied other dubious policies) to produce a frustrated, limited, and disillusioned prison population - who are MORE likely than ever to reoffend and rebel.

Have you seen the riot in the news today?

ttosca Sat 29-Mar-14 21:30:44

This book ban is pure ideology anti-intellectualism. It's so stupid and primitive, it's practically medieval in its thinking.

Banning books being sent to prisoners will restrict their access to books.


Chris Grayling's restriction on prisoners' reading material will spark a vicious cycle where they'll likely earn less too

Prisoners can no longer receive books as gifts. This terrifies, and so it should: civilisation is made of books – and where, even Conservatives can surely admit, is there a greater need for them than in "the prison estate" that is disproportionately filled with the illiterate?

Administrations that hate books ordinarily hate people too. The obvious quotation is from the 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine: "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings", he wrote in his play Almansor. He was talking about Spanish Catholics burning the Qur'an to chase Muslims out of the Iberian peninsula, and for his prescience his own books were burnt in the Opernplatz in Berlin by – need we say it? – the National Socialists. It was a kind of awful remembrance.

The row, which began on Monday with a furious piece by Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform, charges the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, with anti-intellectualism (a reasonable charge against a government that routinely ignores expertise and misuses data to further its ideological agenda) and "an irrational punishment regime", or sadism by deprivation; children live in custody too (1,200 as I write). I would add populism and political ambition: why does Grayling routinely make his announcements to the Conservative lobby hacks who don't know what questions to ask him?

The ministry's response was as robust as any stick: "Let's be clear about one thing," Grayling said, even as he defended a policy that contradicts his own statement. "Prisoners' access to reading material is not being curtailed." Each prison has a library, we were told – which is true; and each prisoner can take out 12 books at a time. Grayling accused his critics of "wilfully stoking up misconceptions", seeking to damage "those whose offending behaviour it is that we are trying to stop".

Is he telling the truth? The obvious question is – as the number of prison officers falls, and the public sector tries to imitate the lower costs of private prisons – how much access does an average prisoner have to a prison library? The Ministry of Justice, for some reason, does not publish figures relating to this, although it does publish the minister's insistence that access to books is not restricted. So we must rely on anecdote and testimony.

The Prisoners' Education Trust carried out a survey last year on access to libraries via InsideTime, the national monthly newspaper for prisoners. Of 343 respondents, 40% praised provision, while 28% called it "average" and 32% "poor". One respondent from HMP Rochester said:

"The library access here is abysmal … the staff rush us out as soon as they can, even if the library is empty." Crook has received a letter from an inmate at HMP Belmarsh insisting he has had no access to a library for four months.

Simon Short, who lived in 25 prisons over 16 years until he did an Open University degree and founded a business employing ex-offenders, says that some of the prison libraries are "not fit for purpose. Books set me free. They were fundamental to my rehabilitation."

(Despite Grayling's actions, this is still established wisdom. Even a minister cannot unmake the truth.) All of which suggests that access varies from prison to prison, and is declining with staff cuts, which are a certainty. The Howard League is set to publish data on this: on one recent day at HMP Pentonville, it notes, there were just 89 staff to 1,200-1,400 prisoners, which does not allow for a lot of library tours.

Prisoners can still buy books under the Incentives and earned privileges scheme, which is designed to ensure compliancy. But the average prisoner earns £8 a week, an amount which has not increased for a decade, and from this must buy toiletries, extra food, stamps (because stamps are not allowed to be received as gifts either) and, perhaps, tobacco. What is left for books, which are expensive? Moreover, understaffing limits opportunities to do activities that will enhance prisoners' privileges and bring them more money to spend. Inmates may also not have the skills to do the activities, because they have not read books.

This, of course, is a catch-22, and leads to a hollow dystopia where, with restricted contact with the outside world and fewer books to read for pleasure and mental sustenance, rehabilitation is threatened. Even to those who care only about social stability, and rather less for what Heine might say about them, this is an abysmal policy.

TheFantasticFixit Sat 29-Mar-14 21:34:27

^this. Everything I wanted to say but was frothing too much at Give's primitive attitude to be properly eloquent

SinisterBuggyMonth Sun 30-Mar-14 10:49:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MadamBatShit Sun 30-Mar-14 10:56:33

hear hear ttosca!

Nasty nasty nasty smallminded bully Grayling and his cronies.

missisboot Sun 30-Mar-14 11:05:47

Absolut madness especially when charities such as these have been engaged to increase reading across the prison estate.

Complete lack of joined up thinking as ever angry

Goblinchild Sun 30-Mar-14 11:58:45

I think access to books and reading material should be a basic human right.
I was banged up in boarding school and restricted to a book a week. That nearly destabilised me, I read a book a day.
Restrict access to other things, from TV to fags or phone calls. But books?

AnythingNotEverything Sun 30-Mar-14 12:12:11

I am so angry at the widespread ideologically based changes Grayling is making to our justice system.

Education is proven to reduce reoffending. Prison should be a place of change as well as a punishment and books are a great way to promote new ways of thinking and aspiration for a better life.

It's incredibly ignorant to assume that most prisoners are there by choice. The vast majority have poor literacy levels, come from families and communities with intergenerational deprivation. Many have acquired brain injuries which affect judgement and understanding of consequences. For many, prison isn't a choice, it's an inescapable future. Not all children are born with equal opportunities.

WhenTransforming Rehabilitation comes in there will be huge public protection issues and vulnerable offenders and victims will fall through the cracks between the areas of contracted provision.

Nennypops Sun 30-Mar-14 12:20:22

What Anything said. We also have to throw into the equation that all too many people in prison are people with learning difficulties which have not been adequately addressed during their childhood despite the fact that it is only too well known that a wholly disproportionate number of people with learning difficulties end up in the criminal justice system. This government is taking away the resources needed to help with that, and it is taking away legal aid to enable people to enforce their children's statutory entitlement to proper help. So in a few years' time they are going to wonder why the prison population isn't going down, and why there is so much recidivism because basic assistance in rehabilitation has been banned.

AchyFox Mon 31-Mar-14 23:11:14

I can't think of a more effective potential utilisation of a library than in a prison.

They should be implemented properly and people should be free to donate books to a prison library.

Problem. Solved.

AchyFox Mon 31-Mar-14 23:16:14

If for some impenetrable reason you want to allow prisoners to own books, just do it via Amazon.

Again, Problem. Solved.

NigellasDealer Tue 01-Apr-14 07:13:30

If you can't do time, don't commit the crime
and the trotting out of tired cliches such as the above, in such a tone that makes it evident the poster actually thinks they are saying something smart is an apt illustration of the paucity of thought around this issue.

AnythingNotEverything Tue 01-Apr-14 07:17:58

Nigella - would you care to clarify exactly which post you are referring to rather than hiding behind your passive aggressive italics?

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