Books in prisons – a response from a government MP

Dear Sir, Please can you speak to the Justice Department about restoring books for prisoners?  I understand the motives behind ruling about packages being sent to prison, for security reasons, but strongly believe that books should be an obvious exception, for the good of the prisoners and their rehabilitation.  Reading books is a necessity, not a privilege. Please drop this change as soon as possible. Thank you.  With best regards, @PedroStephano

Dear Mr Stephano

Thank you for contacting me about books in prison.

 I would like to assure you that this Government has not made any policy changes specifically about the availability of books in prisons. There has been a considerable amount of misinformation on this issue recently. Books are not banned – indeed all prisoners have access to the professionally run prison library service, provided in the same way as all local authority libraries, and every prisoner has the right to order any available title.  Prisoners are also free to buy books from Amazon, via the prison shop using their prison earnings or money sent in by relatives, and can have up to 12 books in their cells at any one time.

 It is not, however, possible for prisoner’s families to send parcels into prison, containing books or any other items, and nor has it ever been the case. This Government is rightly making sure that the security arrangements around packages delivered to prisoners are applied consistently across the prison estate, ensuring that every prisoner is treated fairly. There is good reason for this. Prison staff fight a constant battle to prevent illicit items, such as drugs, extremist materials, mobile phones, SIM cards and pornography getting into prisons. The routes used to try to do so are wide-ranging and ingenious. The Prison Service has seen drugs and weapons sown into the lining of shoes, concealed in clothes, and hidden in essential household items. They have even seen drugs concealed inside a hollowed out Weetabix, as well as in books.

 The arrival of thousands of unknown parcels in our prisons each day, whether containing books, essential items or anything else, would completely undermine these efforts. It would be a logistical impossibility to check them all in the level of detail that is needed, to properly explore whether apparently innocuous items contain drugs or other illegal items. There are other difficulties too. Only this week one prison librarian wrote a national paper pointing out the risk of paedophiles in our prisons accessing illegal written pornographic material through print materials coming into prison which are not properly checked for their content.

 So it is inconceivable that the Government could impose the additional operational burden on staff to carry out detailed assessments of an unlimited number of parcels coming into prisons. This is something that has never happened before and could not happen now. That is why we now have simple rules that allow everyone one parcel of items from home when they first arrive in prison, and then only further parcels at the Governor’s discretion in exceptional circumstances.

I fully recognise the importance of encouraging learning and reading in prisons. The Government is introducing a raft of reforms to improve the rehabilitation of offenders and is making changes to more than double the level of education available in our youth offender institutions from the current average of 12 hours a week. The Government will help people who in all too many cases lack the literacy skills they need and works closely with the Shannon Trust to support schemes such as ‘Toe by Toe’, which includes peer mentoring to improve reading levels. 

 Through the prison libraries and prison shops, the Government is making sure prisoners have full access to books, without opening the floodgates to illegal drugs, extremist materials and weapons. I hope you agree this is a sensible approach to take.


Once again, thank you for contacting me and please feel free to keep in touch.


Yours sincerely


A conservative Member of Parliament


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