A disturbing piece in today’s Times by Richard Ford, Home Correspondent:
Prisoners still cannot get the books they want five years after the end of a ban, according to a report out tomorrow.
Access to libraries is poor in many jails and charities providing books for prisoners say that they are having trouble getting them to inmates.
The Howard League for Penal Reform says that prisoners, their families and charities have have reported book being returned or held up by red tape. One prisoner said that prayer books and bibles had been held in storage.
In a letter to The Times Sir David Hare, the playwright, says that prisoners are being prevented from reading by “neglect”.
In 2014 Chris Grayling, then the justice secretary, introduced a policy preventing prisoners from receiving books from friends or relatives and to limit the number of books each prisoner was able to have in a cell. The rule drew strong opposition from penal reform groups and authors, and in 2015 the High Court ruled that restricting prisoners’ access to books was unlawful. Michael Gove scrapped the rule when he was justice secretary.
Campaigners say that prisoners still face problems getting to libraries as a result of restricted regimes caused by overcrowding and staff shortages.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Books can be a lifeline for prisoners, who often have to spend months or even years locked almost all day in a small cell. The alternative is daytime TV. We should be moving heaven and earth to get people in prison to read.”
The Howard League’s report, based on a review of prison inspection reports, said that five years after Mr Grayling’s ban was lifted inspectors are still finding underused libraries and frustrated prisoners.
A report on Bristol prison found that only 13 men were taken from the wings to the library in May and a report on Garth jail in Lancashire said that the library had been closed for almost half of the previous year.
At Woodhill prison near Milton Keynes the library had operated normally on only seven occasions in three months. Teenagers at Feltham young offender institution in west London could only get to the library for one hour in an evening every fortnight.
Haven Distribution, which buys books for prisoners, said that they were sometimes returned with little or no explanation. “There’s a danger that some may assume all prisoners can now get hold of whichever books they want, which is far from the case,” it said.
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