Dear Sirs: On Prisoners’ Access to Books

In the last week in Britain, there has been a relatively loud roar over new-ish rules that restrict sending books (and underwear, among other things) to prisoners:

Among those outraged by the ban are Egyptian-British author Sabrina Mahfouz, who here reads “Prison Chef”:

As Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright noted, books are not banned in their entirety. Prisoners still have access to the prison library. However, as for receiving books in the mail from family and friends — no.

Thus far, nearly 20,000 have signed a petition, many more have called lawmakers, written their newspapers, or blogged about it.

A few pieces on the ban:

Labour says it would reverse ‘ridiculous’ ban on prisoners receiving books

The prison book ban will cause a real catch-22

Of course, this is hardly the only place prisoners are disallowed unfettered access to books. The Connecticut prisons restrict access to the Qur’an, and goodness knows what other translations from the Arabic. One South Carolina jailer decided prisoners could only read the Bible. US authors have occasionally shown outrage (John Grisham on Guantamano book banning), but too rarely.

A (non-exhaustive) sampling from a google search:

Guantánamo’s banned books – an incomplete list

Texas – TDCJ Bans Thousands of Books in State Prisons

Prison Books Ban: The Censorship Scandal Inside America’s Jails

Pa. Department of Corrections bans some books, magazines from prisoners

Israel Prison Service Places Total Ban on Bringing Books into Prisons and Prohibits Broadcasting of Arabic Television Channels

Israel – Opinion: Prisoners have right to see family, read books

Restricted Reading: South Carolina Jail Bans All Books Except for the Bible

The Banned Books and Censored Magazines of Connecticut’s State Prisons

In Wisconsin, prisoners can’t receive used books

Inmates at Ariz. private prison denied books, lawsuit claims