Stop the Prison Book Ban!

March 24, 2014

A model letter for literature departments to use, to stop Chris Grayling’s barbaric ban on prisoners receiving books.

The Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling, MP –

We begin this letter with an apology for our late response to your decision, in November of last year, to ban prisoners in the British penal system from receiving parcels including underwear, books, and home-made cards. It is of course owing to the innate vulnerability of prisoners, and the low status that they are afforded by the government and press, that we did not hear about this situation until now, thanks to Frances Cook’s article on, Sunday 23/03/2014.

We should like to make it known that we oppose every aspect of this ban. The clothing ban will have a particular impact on women, who are not issued uniforms in British penitentiaries and as a result have to re-use the same clothing and underwear in particular for long periods of time. It is hard to read this measure as anything other than degrading, an attempt to undermine any sense of self-worth in prisoners who have already had their liberty restricted. The ban on receiving home-made cards is particularly perverse and seems intended as an act of emotional manipulation, particularly of parents in prison who are in essence being deprived of the knowledge of their children’s affection. Once again, we remind you that their punishment by law has already removed these people’s freedoms. Further sanctioning seems calculated to break their spirit and moral fibre, to humiliate and degrade them. We do not believe that any human being deserves to be treated in this manner. As educators, and members of the [DEPARTMENT AND INSTITUTION], it is the restriction of prisoners’ right to receive books that we feel particularly compelled to contest. We believe in rehabilitation, and we believe that denying prisoners’ access to the educational power and spiritual respite that books provide is, to echo Philip Pullman’s words on this subject, a “barbaric” move which will directly impede the rehabilitation of prisoners. We believe in the potential of prisoners to make overwhelming contributions to society, during their incarceration and after their release. We refer you in this regard to the careers of Sir Thomas Malory, Ben Jonson, Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Miguel De Cervantes, Alexandr Pushkin, Piper Kerwan, Emma Goldman, Eugenia Ginzburg and Joan Henry, among countless others: all former convicts without whom the face of the literary canon would be unrecognisable.

Denying prisoners the right to read – and to read whatever they want, whether it is supplied by the prison library or not – is in essence an act of censorship and an attempt to restrict their freedom of thought, which is not and must never become a part of the penal system in this country. We would ask you, who are at liberty to read anything you choose, to consider the thoughts of our friends George Orwell and Anthony Burgess on the logical conclusion of restrictions of this kind.

No government with a real desire to rehabilitate prisoners could countenance acting in a way that can only undermine the education and confidence of those within the penal system. We believe this ban constitutes an act of taunting and humiliating cruelty which is not within the spirit of the law, and we call for the immediate repeal of the parcel ban. We will continue to take action within the law to make certain that prisoners have access to literature and are permitted the psychic growth that is owing to any human being.

Yours sincerely,
Jordan Savage, Graduate Teaching Assistant.



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