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Thursday, 22 May 2014

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Jenny @ Reading the End

This made me really sad. I keep thinking of Oscar Wilde and how endlessly grateful he was to the prison warden who finally let him have books. You'd think in a century things would have changed more than this. :(

Desperate reader

Can I play devil's advocate on this one? I have a friend in the prison service who feels quite strongly about this and the points he made about it made sense to me in the end as well. Prisons have good libraries which there are no plans to close (though who knows what the future holds) but some books from family members are being used to smuggle in undesirable things and searching them takes up resources that can ill be spared. Personally I think the whole prison system needs overhauling (something more Swedish would be good) but until that happens maybe it's better to control where the books come from? Or not.

Helen

Hello Jenny! I worry I've misled you. It's definitely better than a hundred years ago. Prisons do have libraries and prisoners will be allow to buy books from a catalogue - the trouble is that they generally don't earn enough money to be able to afford very many. So this is a making-access-to-books-more-difficult problem rather than a banning-books problem.

Hayley, I am delighted that you play devil's advocate. I should add that your friend who works in the prison service is in a much better position to comment about this than I am. I don't believe that everyone in prison is interested in reading, and I know that books are used to smuggle in all sorts of bad stuff - and so checking them uses up resources. And the government is trying to save money by cutting costs wherever they can, which includes in the prison service.

My complaint is that the effect of this IS to seriously restrict the access of a lot of prisoners to books, and I believe in the importance of books for rehabilitation and education, and for making life inside bearable. Prisons have libraries, but they have funding issues too, and the amount of time each prisoner can spend in the library per week is often very limited. (See the Howard League's report on prison libraries to which they link here: http://www.howardleague.org/campaign-books-for-prisoners/)

Even the president of the Prison Governor's Association is concerned about the effect of the overall current policy towards prisoners (http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2014/05/07/prison-governors-grayling-s-regime-is-driving-us-to-tipping).

Since the government doesn't seem to be about to change their approach, I thought that a more practical approach might be to donate money to organisations which do arrange for prisoners to receive books.

This isn't all directed at you Hayley, and I hope you don't mind the length of my reply or feel I'm getting at you or anything. :) I agree I wrote my original post too emotionally and I wanted to express my opinion more clearly. And I do think that some aspects of the campaign have been ridiculous (I really did not see the point of all those selfies, for instance).

Annabel

Helen - have you seen this post on Scott Pack's blog? via this link It was fascinating reading...

Helen

Hello Annabel - thank you so much for letting me know! (Typepad seems to have eaten the link to Scott Pack's blog - it is here: http://meandmybigmouth.typepad.com/scottpack/2014/05/books-in-prisons.html) It is absolutely fascinating reading - an interview with a reading development officer in prisons.

Jenny @ Reading the End

Hi Helen -- No, I know that! I've read (some) about the whole mess. I shouldn't have phrased my comment that way; I know it's not a question of there being NO books. It wasn't in Oscar Wilde's case either, at least not most of the time. It was more a question of his getting the books he wanted (which his friends were willing to send him), rather than just having access to the few that were already available at Reading Gaol. And poor him, he read constantly, it must have been a misery to have such limited access. That's all I meant.

Helen

Thank you so much Jenny for coming back and writing that! I panicked and thought that I had given everyone the wrong impression in my post and thereby Ruined the World. (Perhaps you didn't know that the entire world revolves around me? :))

The interview to which Annabel linked (which I hope Chris Grayling reads) shows that prison libraries are much better equipped than I had imagined and many allow prisoners to order books from the public library system (with some restrictions, e.g. on true crime titles). So, that's something hopeful. On the other hand, access to those libraries is becoming more and more restricted with the cuts to prison resources. You are absolutely right: an avid reader like Oscar Wilde would suffer tremendously.

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