Writing in Politics.co.uk, Frances Crook (chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform) decries the latest nasty Tory tough-on-crime initiative: denying books from the outside to prisoners, many of whom spend more than sixteen hours per day in their cells. This follows on a ban on homemade birthday cards from prisoners' children, and a ban on underwear and other comfort items from outside (women prisoners are hit very hard by this as they are not supplied with undergarments otherwise and spend months wearing the same underwear and bras).
As Crook points out, banning books, birthday cards and underwear has nothing to do with rehabilitation for criminals, and everything to do with pandering to a vicious public who want to see everyone who is locked up made as miserable as possible.
Last November new rules were introduced so that families are no longer permitted to send in small items to prisoners. Children are not allowed to send a homemade birthday card. Prisoners with a particular expertise or interests cannot receive magazines, no matter how innocuous it might be to want to know about bird watching or steam trains.
The rules apply to clothing too. Prisoners are no longer permitted to have underwear sent in and so have to wear pants and socks worn by many other people. Women prisoners are particularly hard hit by this rule as they are not provided with a uniform and are dependent on family for underwear and outerwear. If underwear cannot be sent in, women are forced to wear the same pants and bras for months.
Book banning is in some ways the most despicable and nastiest element of the new rules. Prison libraries are supplied and funded by local authorities and have often been surprisingly good, but so many libraries are now closing and cutting costs that inevitably the first service to feel the pinch is in prison.
An inspection report published on March 18th on Wetherby prison, which holds 180 young boys, praised the jail for only containing the children in their cells for 16 hours a day during the week and 20 hours a day at weekends. Whilst many will not want to read a book to pass these endless hours, many boys I have met in prison do indeed read avidly.
Comment: Why has Grayling banned prisoners being sent books?