Rule preventing UK prisoners from receiving books causes outcry

The rule came to public attention after Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Horward League for Penal Reform, wrote an opinion piece about it. 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' author Mark Haddon called the rule 'not only ... small-minded but desperately counterproductive.'

By , Staff Writer

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    A prison guard locks a door in the Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institution in Rochester, England.
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New rules from the UK’s Ministry of Justice that prevent prisoners from receiving books from outside the prison has prompted an outcry.

According to the Guardian, the ban had been in place since last November. A petition asking justice minister Chris Gayling to “review and amend” the rule has received more than 4,000 signatures. The issue has become widely known since Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Horward League for Penal Reform, wrote an opinion piece on the issue for Politics.co.uk.

“This is part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation,” Crook wrote.

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According to Crook, the new rules, which also prevents prisoners from receiving items like socks or underwear, magazines, or homemade birthday cards, “relate to a downgrading of the system of rewards and punishments, ostensibly designed to encourage prisoners to comply with prison rules.” But, Crook points out, the banning of books is universal, so “no matter how compliant and well behaved you are, no prisoner will be allowed to receive books from the outside.”

Rather than getting these items from others outside the jails, prisoners must pay for anything they acquire. This money goes to the private companies that are in charge of stores for prisoners. 

The petition, which was created by Cambridge’s Mary Sweeney, says that “access to books can be crucial for education and rehabilitation. Access to family items are important for continued family connection, and should not additionally punish children of prisoners who need contact.”

According to the Guardian, Mark Haddon, author of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” said he found the rules to be “malign and pointless extra punishment, which is not only malign and small-minded but desperately counterproductive,” while “His Dark Materials” writer Philip Pullman called it “one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts of a barbaric government” and author Ian Rankin said, “From visits to prisons and talking to prisoners I know how important books can be in promoting literacy and connecting prisoners to society,” according to Politics.co.uk.

“Is this government going to ban books for the people who need them most?” asked poet Ruth Padel, according to the Guardian.

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