There are many blogs discussing the issue of the new move by the Ministry of Justice banning the receipt of books sent to prisoners from friends and family so I thought I would add my own experience.
For a while, until it became too onerous, I was a judge for The Koestler Trust. Our group, under the inspired chairmanship of Reginald Gadney, were responsible for judging the essays produced by the Special Hospitals (Broadmoor et al) and Youth Offending Institutions (Gartree, Usk and many others).
Funding was always an issue, the judges were volunteers but it was in prisons that the troubles always started; there were not enough people to manage courses to help young offenders and consequently many prisons simply did not take part in the scheme, the impetus of which was to provide funds for small prizes to encourage literacy (and indeed art) in the prison population.
The lack of literacy in the prison population is a known problem. To ban books, which might eventually lead to greater literacy seems rather short-sighted. If there is an inadequate supply of a variety of books to read, surely the incentive to learn to read more, better, or at all is immediately extinguished.
It seems to me that going to the lengths of banning parcels on the specious grounds that they are used to convey drugs and other illegal items into prison, while at the same time also saying that there are no funds with which to buy books, is not just stupidly counter-productive, vindictive and injurious to the welfare of the prisoners, but also possibly an infringement of their rights.
The lack of funds and the lack of staff often means that inmates are kept in their cells for long stretches, to then ban books coming into the prison at no cost to the system seems to show a curious lack of imagination.
Surely, with sophisticated drug detection and x-ray equipment available (as in airports) the said parcels could be screened. That, I should have thought would result in a win-win situation. For if there proved to be no drugs – the parcel being an innocent package of books, then one prisoner at least would be relieved of boredom, and maybe more than one if the book was then shared; if, on the other hand, the parcel contained drugs, then the route back to the “donor” would be straightforward and a possible supply chain might be discovered and broken.
Or am I being intolerably naïve?
Anyway, if you also feel a sense of great injustice being done here, you can protest by following this link: