Monday, 7 April 2014

Books for prisoners

I'm sure you've read about how new rules have now banned anyone from sending books to prisoners. I read about it in this piece by Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Then I was one of the writers who signed this open letter to ask Chris Grayling to reconsider the ban; among the other authors were Salman Rushdie, Mark Haddon, Carol Ann Duffy, Laura Wade, Jack Thorne, David Eldridge, Moira Buffini, Jackie Kay, Maggie O'Farrell and Naomi Alderman.

Over the past two weeks I've found out a lot I didn't know about books in prisons. While all prisons must have a library, cuts have meant prisoners are locked in their cells for longer so can't get to the library, cuts have also reduced library opening hours and limited library stock. While prisoners can buy books, an employed prisoner earns around £8-£10 per week, and after buying phone credit, toiletries and food, that doesn't leave much money. There are shocking levels of literacy in prisons (an issue also really movingly highlighted in Clean Break's latest play Pests), so making sure prisoners can get books is partly just about making sure they are able to learn to read, which can only help when they get out and are trying to make better lives. It's also about giving them access to empathy, to understanding themselves and others, and to being able to imagine themselves into better futures.

So I very much hope the Government reconsiders the ban. The Howard League's website is updating regularly on the campaign.

I also tried to think of ways to get more books into prisons, and have been in touch with Prison Reading Groups, an amazing charity that runs reading groups in prisons. If you are a writer and would like to help get more books into prisons, they would love it if you could:

1. Donate a single copy of your book to PRG, so that they can take it into their reading groups and see if the prisoners would like it to be one of the books they read.

2. Offer to do an author visit to a prison.

And if you're not a writer, the PRG would, of course, love donations to help them carry on with their work.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this - so good to have some concrete ideas for how to help.

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