January 23, 2015

Reversal of UK prison ban on books to be implemented by January 31


UK Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling isn't happy about the reversal of a law he says never existed.

UK Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling isn’t happy about the reversal of a law he says never existed.

Following the December reversal of a controversial rule change by the UK Ministry of Justice, British prisoners will once again be allowed to receive books in the mail. With a new deadline for compliance set, is this a return to “holiday” conditions for prisoners?? Or maybe it’s more like a rational response to a rule that never made sense.

Back in March, we reported on the rule that effectively barred prisoners from receiving books from family and friends, and the rationale of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

Dubbing prisons “holiday camps,” he said new policies would make time in jail less like a vacation. “For too long the public has seen prisoners spending their days languishing in their cells watching TV, using illegal mobile phones to taunt their victims on Facebook or boasting about their supposedly easy life in prisons. This is not right and it cannot continue.”

Reading transports you, and that’s too much like an actual plane trip to a tropical destination, or a hot car trip connecting with your family. The family you need to bond with just in case you are ever in prison, because prison uniforms don’t include underwear (at least for women) and you’re totally dependent on packages from the outside to provide you with fresh skivvies. And books. You are also really, really going to need reading material.

The Guardian reports that the new court order must be put into practice by January 31.

Months of protests by campaigners against rules that restricted inmates’ access to books preceded the high court ruling on a test case brought on behalf of a prisoner with a doctorate in English literature. “I see no good reason, in the light of the importance of books for prisoners, to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control … and reasonable measures relating to frequency of parcels and security considerations,” ruled Mr Justice Collins in December.

For his part, Grayling denies that there ever was a ban in the first place. In a totally unbiased, non-partisan interview on Conservative Home, Grayling called the controversy a “fabrication by a left-wing pressure group” and blamed his inability to quiet the debate on it being “the kind of thing where the left gets terribly excited.”

The rule that is being overturned also effectively barred prisoners from receiving things like birthday cards, magazines, and underwear. I can only agree with Julian Barnes, who called the reversal “a rare victory for common sense.”


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.