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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Books to prisoners row is storm in a teacup

The ongoing row about the Government's ban on relatives sending books to prisoners is a classic case of how a perfectly reasonable measure is distorted out of all proportion and then misrepresented so as to provide a stick to hit Ministers over the head with. What is particularly sad is that some Liberal Democrats have fallen for the hype and jumped on the bandwagon.

Reading this Telegraph article, it seems that the facts are very different to the narrative, which a number of prominent authors are signing up to.

Firstly, prisoners have not been banned from accessing books. Prisoners continue to have access to prison libraries and can have up to 12 books in their cell at any one time. They can also order books they wish to read and of course relatives can continue to donate books to the prison library. Prisoners also continue to have access to classes where they can acquire skills and qualifications.

Secondly, there has not been a specific ban on sending book to prisoners, instead the ban, which has been in force since November last year, is on family packages. These packages often contain food, sports gear and occasionally books but also are used to smuggle in contraband and drugs.

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service has compared the inventiveness of inmates to that of the Great Escape including using hollowed out Weetabix packs to hide mobile phones and having drugs and phones hidden in shoes, clothing and stereos. Books have also been used to smuggle in drugs.

As the Secretary of State for Justice says: "The idea that we are banning access to books for prisoners is just nonsense. We work extremely hard to keep drugs, extremist literature and other banned material out of prisons. Suggesting that we should suddenly start allowing people to send unlimited numbers of parcels into prisons, that might contain books or otherwise, is the surest way of seeing the amount of contraband getting in go through the roof."

It is about time that some persepective was brought to this debate adn i am glad that the government have sought to do so.
In fact there was a post to one of the forums about this today from a mother whose son is in a YOI. She sent him, via Amazon, a book on How to be an Expert Footballer. He never received it. She inquired and eventually got told that it was "unsuitable". Not surprisingly she now believes he had fallen foul of this ban. There seems to be a concern by the authorities about what might be smuggled in inside a book. Surely there can be no objection to books ordered via Amazon? How often do the prisoners have access to the prison library?

Perhaps you could request some statistics on this and on how many prisoners have received books from friends and family as gifts, since the new rules came into force.
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