Damn dirty politics

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

— Albert Einstein


I really can’t stress how important I consider reading to be. It’s the foundation of your life; it equips you to dream, to work, to defeat the great monsters in your life. It teaches ingenuity, empathy, sympathy, understanding. Without ever being taught, it’s a gift we can all receive, can all give, can all share in. Which is why the government decision to stop prisoners from receiving books strikes me as one of the most counterproductive ideas in recent history.

What is the point of prison? Is it to punish, protect or rehabilitate? Just think, in the UK only around 50 people currently imprisoned will never see freedom again; the rest are scheduled to be released at some point. With reoffending rates so high, surely it can’t be right to take away anything that could improve literacy and give people – male and female, young and old – a chance to improve themselves and break out of that self-destructive cycle. At the moment 40% of the people in prison have a reading age of eleven or below.

This recent move from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling doesn’t affect prison libraries which are, at present, a statutory requirement. What it does is prevent any material being sent in from outside. The legislation actually came into effect in November, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Christmas gifts to inmates being withheld. Apparently, one of the reasons behind the new rule is that it’s not ‘secure or practical’ to allow parcels to be sent to prisoners; however, the general secretary of POA – the prison workers’ trade union – has said this has never been a problem.

The law includes a ban on stationary, magazines, books – and even underwear. Prisoners are expected to buy these items from their small prison wage, with profits going to private companies. Gareth Davies, former governor of Pentonville Prison, has branded the book ban as ‘barbarous’.

By way of contrast, Brazilian prisoners have four days knocked off their sentences for every book they read.

There is a petition to end this ridiculous situation at:



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News! Come Monday I’ll be taking part in a blog tour. And that, you lucky people, means that there’ll be an extra post for you to read! It’s about My Writing Process and I was invited to take part by the excellent writer of contemporary romance Gabrielle Aquilina. Her tour entry appeared online last Monday and can be found here: http://www.gabrielleaquilina.blogspot.co.uk. I’ll then be handing on to my appointees for the Monday after (April 7th).

If you’re interested, go check out #mywritingprocess on Twitter. There’s a lot of interesting posts up around the net already.

Happy Friday, y’all.

2 thoughts on “Damn dirty politics

  1. This ban is offensive, but I hadn’t made the link between this and the profits of the private companies in charge, truly revolting. I’d be interested to know how many rehabilitated former prisoners would say that reading had a positive influence on their rehabilitation. I’d imagine a lot and from my case study of two different people in different pubs; it would be 100%.

    I remember at school when the difference between public and private was described to us, prisons, police etc were provided as examples of services which could only be public because it would be impossible to operate privately, without resorting to corrupt practice.

    One option you may have overlooked as the point of prison, is to scare the rest of the population into behaving. That is why Tory Blair joked about anal rape in prisons, because that is the scariest thing he can imagine happening in prison. It is in a government’s interests to promote the idea that if you go to prison you will be buggered, as it (understandably) plays on the fears of the general public.


    • Yeah, good point – although there’s no evidence that prison works as a deterrent. Not as far as I’m aware, at least. Certainly capital punishment doesn’t.

      Unfortunately, I think those old divisions between public and private exist anymore. Even in government lobbyists and second jobs are endemic.

      But I have absolutely no doubt that reading aids rehabilitation. One thing I didn’t think until too late is that it’s been proved that reading aids empathy. If you can imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes it follows that you’re less likely to want to hurt/harm/damage others. And what else is reading than learning how to see the world through different eyes?


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