Prison reading expert welcomes overturn of Government’s books ban

The High Court in London has overturned a controversial Government ban on books being sent to prisoners from their friends and families. A judge described the decision by the Ministry of Justice as ‘unlawful’.

Posted: 8 December 2014

image for news story Prison reading expert welcomes overturn of Government’s books ban
Prison reading expert Sarah Turvey, who has welcomed the High Court's decision to overturn a ban on books being sent to jails

The decision has been welcomed by Sarah Turvey, Principal Lecturer in English at the University of Roehampton, and a founder member of Prison Reading Groups, a project supported and partly funded by the University.

Ms Turvey said: “Any society which is committed to the rehabilitation of prisoners must welcome the High Court’s verdict. Books widen our experience by allowing us to imagine different worlds and different identities. There is perhaps no other group of people for whom this is more important than prisoners. Reading also allows people to connect to the wider culture outside; books can create community with strangers, which is the basis of citizenship.

“Prison libraries are vital but the upheavals of the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme has made access very difficult for many in prison. This makes it even more important to ensure prisoners can receive books sent in to them.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling had introduced tighter rules on packages being sent to prisoners in a bid to improve security in jails and stop the spread of contraband. The backlash against the ban led to a court hearing, after lawyers agreed to represent a prisoner who challenged the ruling for free.

The decision to overturn the ban was widely reported in the media, and Ms Turvey’s comments were published by the Daily Mail, Northern Echo and many other newspapers. She was also interviewed on BBC Radio London. (Listen from 1.09.00)

Prison Reading Groups was established in 2000 and currently support over 30 groups in more than 25 prisons nationwide. The settings vary: libraries, vulnerable prisoners’ units, health care wings and day centres. Each group is co-ordinated by a member of prison staff (usually the librarian) and a volunteer from outside

Volunteers play a key role in many prison reading groups. Prisoners value the willingness of outsiders to visit the jail and the sense of connectedness with the outside world which that provides. At the same time, volunteers say working with a prison reading group can be a rewarding way to share enjoyment of books and to make a contribution to prisoner rehabilitation.

In addition directing the Prison Reading Groups project, Ms Turvey has been the volunteer group facilitator at HMP Wandsworth for many years. She said: “I love it – it’s one of the most fulfilling things I do.”

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