British Court Strikes Down Ban on Sending Books to Prisoners

Posted on January 24, 2015

A British high court ruling has overturned the controversial decision to outlaw sending books to prisoners in the United Kingdom. In December the court ruled that books should be struck off the list of items that cannot be sent to prisoners.

The Guardian reports that the controversy began last year when the Ministry of Justice sent out regulation clarifying its rules for what items prisoners could be sent by relatives and what items they could possess in prison. The rules severely restricted prisoners' access to books. After press reports emerged about the effective ban on books, authors, librarians and English PEN rallied to the cause to get the ban overturned.

Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy even lead a protest outside Pentonville prison over teh issue. Authors such as J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Mark Haddon and Ian McEwan have all championed the cause.

The severe restrictions on books (which according to the court amounted to a ban) especially affected women prisoners, according to the testimony presented at the high court. Even books on knitting (a popular item in prisons, as it turns out) were on the banned list of items that could be sent to prisoners.

The court ruled that the Ministry of Justice must amend the new regulations to remove books from the category of items that cannot be sent or brought to prisoners. As of February 1st, books should be flowing to prisons once again.

The Ministry of Justice has grumbled in the press about how hard it is to stop the flow of drugs and other contraband into prisons, and we're sure that is true. But that is no reason to deny prisoners access to as many books as they would like to read. It's a worthy past time that should be encouraged, not discouraged. The Ministry of Justice has said it will not appeal the ruling, so this should be the end of it. All items brought into a prison are screened and it should be pretty obvious when a book is hiding something illegal, so the lifting of the ban shouldn't cause any more work for the staff.

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