Prisoners in Britain denied books, authors launch protest

A new rule bans books from being sent to prisoners in Britain. “From now on, any man, woman or child in prison will not be able to receive a book from outside,” prison reform activist Frances Crook explained in an editorial Sunday.

The regulations also ban other items, including underwear, magazines and homemade birthday cards.

And yet, Crook writes, “Book banning is in some ways the most despicable and nastiest element of the new rules.”

Authors energized by Crook’s piece launched a campaign Monday asking for restrictions on books to be lifted. Mark Haddon, author of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” wrote that he hoped to get “every writer in the UK publicly opposed to this by tea time.”

A petition calls for the U.K.'s Justice Minister Chris Grayling to “Review and amend your new rules which restrict prisoners access to books and personal items.” As of this writing -- about tea time in England -- the petition has reached more than 6,000 signatures.


Signatories include bestselling authors Haddon, Ian Rankin and Philip Pullman.

“Words nearly fail me on this,” Pullman told the Guardian. “It comes from the mind of a man with the outlook of the sort of school bully who is indulged and favoured by the teachers, who can see perfectly well how noxious his behaviour is, but allow it to continue on the grounds that at least he’s keeping order. Any government worth having would countermand this loathsome and revolting decision at once, sack the man responsible, and withdraw the whip from him.”

Underlying the outcry is the premise that reading books, even those that are not didactic, is beneficial. “Do you want people released into the community who have been retrained, who are more liberal and humane, or people who have been relentlessly deprived of the things we all feel are important in life?” Haddon said. “People tend to think there’s us, and then there are prisoners, but these are people who will be our future neighbours and colleagues.”

Haddon has worked with prisoners in the past, judging writing competitions with PEN in England.


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