The government ban on sending books to prisoners has been declared unlawful and overturned. In a High Court ruling, Mr Justice Collins reviewed the controversial policy that has attracted a great deal of protest and declared he could see “no good reason” for its existence. The legal action was brought by prison inmate Barbara Gordon-Jones, who is serving a minimum of five years for arson.
The ban was enforced as part of an “incentives and earned privileges” policy brought into effect by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, in November 2013. Many authors and writers have fiercely protested against it, with Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, calling it “malign and pointless extra punishment”. Other prominent figures included Philip Pullman, Cambridge professor Mary Beard and musician Billy Bragg.
The government gave various reasons for the necessity of the ban, first saying it was part of the scheme to make books a privilege to be earned as an incentive for good behaviour, then as being necessary for the policy as a whole to work, and finally to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs into prisons. Prisons minister Jeremy Wright argued “the notion that we are banning books in prisons is complete nonsense. All prisoners can have up to 12 books in their cells at any one time, and all prisoners have access to the prison library.”
However, these justifications were dismissed by both opponents of the ban and Mr Justice Collins, who said “In the light of the statement made about the importance of books…to refer to them as a privilege is strange.” Criticisms were also made that, alongside the policy, government cuts had made prison libraries all the poorer and access to them more difficult, making them far from a suitable alternative to prisoners for receiving books sent by friends and family.
Many have talked about how important access to books is for prisoners, both for rehabilitation purposes and to help them through the hardship of serving their sentence. Crime novelist 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”. Mark Haddon also made the point that “being locking into a little room for 23 hours a day could tip a lot of people over the edge. A battered paperback of Gone Girl or Killing Floor could save a person’s life”. Literacy skills are also a huge problem amongst prisoners, which books are obviously essential to improving.
Now that the ban has been overturned, only the regular restrictions on sending packages to prisoners will apply. If you’re uncertain about the new rules or have any questions about someone you know serving a prison sentence, get in touch. Beecham Peacock can offer expert advice on criminal law, with specialised solicitors suited to your case.