Prison book ban scrapped - finally!

Well it's about time. Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has confirmed that the much hated restrictions on books being sent to inmates have been lifted.


The ban has been challenged for well over a year now, and a move to overturn the policy has been fought by many, including the Howard League for Penal Reform and English PEN.

National and international support for its removal was strong, with backing from authors including Carol Ann Duffy and Salmand Rushdie, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of the Russian band Pussy Riot. Tolokonnikova spoke up about the restrictions in April last year.

From February this year, prisoners could receive books only from Waterstones, W H Smith, Blackwell's and Foyles. But friends and relatives are now free to send titles directly; clearly a far more personal and considered package to receive.

Prisoners can keep larger libraries, too, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice confirmed:

We are amending prison policy so that friends and relatives can send books to prisoners directly. We are also removing the limit of 12 books per cell.

For his part, Michael Gove has offered:

People who are currently languishing in prison are potential assets to society. They could be productive and contribute. If we look at them only as problems to be contained we miss the opportunity to transform their lives and to save ourselves and our society both money and pain.

And to that we couldn't agree more. Frances Cook of the Howard League has voiced clear pleasure at the move:

It is particularly welcome to hear the secretary of state describe prisoners as assets and not liabilities. Prisoners are indeed people who can have positive futures and who can contribute to society. Relaxing access to books as tools of education and change is just one of the ways we can ensure that the justice system works with prisoners, rather than against them.

That the ban has been scrapped completely now is positive of course. Gove reportedly received inspiration for the decision from Arthur Brooks, a policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank.

Mr Brooks' views on humans being liabilities rather than assets are commendable. And the lifting of the prison book ban a wholly enjoyable bit of news.