Protest at prison book restrictions

Published: Thursday 11th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Campaigners are to stage a demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice today urging ministers to lift restrictions on prisoners receiving books in time for Christmas.

Leading arts figures, including actor Vanessa Redgrave and Horrid Henry children’s author Francesca Simon, will gather outside the Government department shortly after t he High Court declared restrictions on prisoners receiving books from friends and family ”unlawful”.

Last week, Mr Justice Collins, sitting in London, said he could see ”no good reason” for the restrictions ”in the light of the importance of books for prisoners”.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and English PEN, which spearheaded the campaign against the ban, will also call for ministers to reverse prison rules which prevent friends and family sending other essentials, such as underwear, or even small gifts made by children.

The campaign has won support from leading literary figures including poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Booker prize-winning novelists Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan and writers Joanne Harris, Mark Haddon, Salman Rushdie, Alan Bennett, David Hare, Jacqueline Wilson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Kathy Lette.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Christmas is a gloomy time for prisoners and their families across the country, but it is encouraging that the High Court has found the Ministry of Justice’s petty restrictions on books to be unlawful.

“We now hope that ministers will move quickly to ensure prisoners can receive books in time for Christmas, rather than wasting more taxpayers’ money on a costly and pointless appeal.

“However, that isn’t enough. In this season of giving, surely the parcel ban can be relaxed further so that prisoners are able to receive underwear and other essentials, as well as small, hand-made gifts from their children. This would help to alleviate distress in prisons at a time when they are in crisis.”

The legal challenge against the ban was the result of a new Prison Service Instruction (PSI) which amended the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme (IEP) that had been in place since 1995.

One aspect of the changes was ”a severe restriction on the ability of prisoners to receive items, including books, either sent by friends or relatives or brought in by visitors”.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said: “I’m hopeful that this will be the last time we need to gather in protest at the restriction on sending books to prisoners.

“If Chris Grayling sees sense following the welcome ruling at the High Court last week, then friends and relatives should soon be able to send books to their loved ones

“This has been a short-sighted and self-defeating policy, depriving prisoners of what can be a lifeline and undermining the possibilities for rehabilitation. Public support for this campaign has been a remarkable demonstration of the widespread belief that access to literature is a necessity.”

Published: Thursday 11th December 2014 by The News Editor

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