The Prison Service is Banning Books.

Actually, the situation is far more complicated than the Guardian article describing the new petition by Mark Haddon makes clear. Prison services aren’t actually banning books. They are, however, preventing families from receiving small packages from families and friends which could contain books. This is part of their rewards and incentives program which “encourages” good behaviour from prisoners.

Regardless of the hyperbole involved with the “banning books” headlines, the idea just stinks. Books should never be used as a punishment or reward.

I don’t support the prison system in general as it is simply not fit for purpose. It does not offer “justice” nor “rehabilitation”. It is also deeply misogynistic and racist; one only has to look at the crimes for which women and Black men are incarcerated for and compare them with the crimes of white middle class men.

Prison must be about rehabilitation. Yes, there are violent men who should not be released but denying them access to books and other extreme forms of punishment do not make prisons safe for other inmates or the staff. Books are the one thing that all prisoners should have access to at all times. There are obvious provisos here: obviously no one should have a copy of Mein Kampf and how-to manuals for torture porn. There should also be limits on the number of library books an inmate can have in their cell at any one time but preventing families from sending in new books is nonsensical.

There are better ways to reward and incentivise prisoners good behaviour but those require a fundamental overhaul of our justice system and a recognition that incarceration should be reserved only for violent crimes. But, as long as we are stuck with the system we have, preventing new books from entering prisons is an inappropriate punishment which does nothing to help with rehabilitation (frankly, some actual programs for drug misuse might be a start).

I have linked the petition below but in a climate where library services are being cut across the UK perhaps a more effective response would be for everyone to start donating books they don’t want or need to public libraries, schools and local prisons.


Bidisha wrote a brilliant blog on the power of books in prisons here.

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