Prison book ban overturned

Wonderful news was announced at the end of last week as the ban on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales has been declared unlawful by the High Court.

Mr Justice Collins has removed the ban previously imposed earlier this year by the justice secretary Chris Grayling and has ordered the policy on what can be sent to prisoners to be amended, commenting that it was strange to treat books as a privilege when they may be essential to a prisoner’s self-development and rehabilitation.

The ban provoked an incredible reaction in opposition, leading to a petition and high-profile campaign garnering support from authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie and Philip Pullman, who commented after the reversal of the decision that he was glad that reading has been seen as “a right and not a privilege”.

The Reader Organisation is delighted to hear the news, given our work sharing reading in prisons and criminal justice settings across the UK. For hundreds of prisoners each week, shared reading offers the chance to reflect, engaging with literature and connecting deeper to their own experiences.

“The connections and insights of a shared reading group are endless and some of those most in need of new connections and insights are prisoners. I myself have actually become more tolerant of people and value their opinions far more than I used to as I am constantly amazed by the depth of those insights which frequently resonate with me deeply.

I have benefited greatly from the emphasis upon great literature and have learnt more of what it is to be a human being, the role of emotions in myself and others, in fact the whole range of human experience in these finely crafted works than I have in half a dozen psychological ‘treatments’.” – A, a prisoner taking part in one of our regular shared reading group

Read more of A’s story in our Annual Report 2013/14

Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James spoke on BBC Radio 4 following the overturning of the ban discussing the importance of reading in prison and in particular talking about the difference books have made to his life: you can hear the clip here. In Issue 54 of The Reader, he wrote an essay about how he became a reader whilst in prison and how one book in particular gave him hope for the future. In the light of the news, it makes for an even more powerful read.

Recently Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Civil Justice & Legal Policy, visited one of our shared reading groups at the Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (PIPEs) in HMP Send. Shared reading has been integrated as part of daily life in seven PIPEs around the country. After his visit, Lord Faulks lent his support to shared reading within criminal justice settings:

“The Reader Organisation performs a vital function in the delivery of the PIPE objectives by engaging prisoners with literature and poetry which is both enjoyable and beneficial for them. I was very impressed with the library facilities at HMP Send particularly with the accessibility to books in all genres.”

Great news just in time for Christmas for prisoners across the country to receive the gift of reading and we continue to look forward to delivering more shared reading sessions in criminal justice settings in 2015.

Introducing…The Reader Magazine blog!

reader-54-web-coverWhen you’ve read your trusty copy of The Reader magazine cover to cover, are you often thirsting for more literary goodness? Perhaps there’s a poem, short story or feature article that has got you enthused and you want to say more about it?

Well now you can get even more from between the pages as we’re happy to announce that The Reader has gone online with a brand new blog dedicated to bringing readers even closer to quality literature and the wealth of thinking behind it.

Of course you’ll still be able to enjoy the pleasures of ink on paper – Issue 54 is hot off the press and physical copies can be ordered from The Reader Organisation’s website as well as in a selection of bookshops around the UK, including Waterstones Liverpool One – but now if you’ve read something that’s moved, vexed or roused you or you’re simply keen for more of the same, just a few clicks and it will all be at your fingertips.

A spirit of sharing has always been at the heart of The Reader since its first publication in 1997, and the blog gives the perfect opportunity to take that idea further. Online you’ll find a range of additional articles and features to enliven the print version of the magazine with further discussion and audio, though it is intended that the content will also stand alone for readers who prefer their reading in pixels.

The Reader blog is already brimming with topical content available for you to read at your leisure, and with a particular focus on the current hot issue of reading in prisons. Author and TRO patron Erwin James‘s powerful essay detailing the profound effect a book on French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus had on the state of his mind during his time in prison is available in full – and already gaining a remarkable response from readers online:

An amazing journey of hope, the strength of the human spirit and commitment to personal change.

Following Erwin’s story – and the many other stories that say that reading really does make a difference to prisoners – contributors from Issue 54 including Shauneen Lambe, Sean Elliot and Margaret Drabble recommend the books they would give to a friend in prison exclusively for The Reader blog.

The blog is also where we’ll be building up an archive of poetry readings, our first additions coming from poet and regular Reader contributor Julie-ann Rowell reading two selections from her work.

So much to get you reading already, all to be found on

Don’t forget that you can delve into The Reader archives by purchasing your vintage copies from the website, as well as subscribing for your regular dose of Readerly goodness:


Giving books in Wormwood Scrubs

The first Book Room at Wormwood Scrubs, set up by Give A Book
The first Book Room at Wormwood Scrubs, set up by Give A Book

The debate on books in prisons is still a burning issue since months after the announcement of rules to ban prisoners from receiving books through the post. A petition to get the ban overturned – supported by The Reader Organisation – has received over 28,000 signatures, and there have been various campaigns, including the very active #booksforprisoners hashtag on Twitter which highlights the reformative power of literature.

Our work sharing reading in prisons and other criminal justice settings around the UK demonstrates how literature can have a massive impact on the lives of prisoners and ex-offenders. The sharing of personal experiences through books offers opportunities for prison reform, rehabilitation and prevention of further crime, as well as improving health and wellbeing, increasing confidence and providing the chance for self-reflection. Simply put, our work with people such as N shows what effect reading has on opening up prisoners’ lives outside of their cells:

“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place.  In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things.  And we’re listening to each other.  I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.”

(Read N’s story in full on our website)

Our friends from Give A Book, who facilitate the gifting of books to charities, organisations and people who need them the most, have recently set up a new Book Room in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The room is designed to support the existing library within the prison, encouraging prisoners to read recreationally in an informal setting.

The Book Room has proved immensely popular since its opening, with an influx of donations of great literature from sources including Granta, English PEN and Cambridge Literary Festival. There has also been some great feedback from the prisoners on the wing, which you can read on the Give A Book blog.

There are plans to open a Book Room on all wings of the prison, and it’s a fantastic initiative which The Reader Organisation wholeheartedly supports. Congratulations to all at Give A Book for the success of the Book Room and best of luck for it continuing!

You’ll also find more about the subject of books in prisons in Issue 54 of The Reader magazine, which is out now. Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James writes about how the power of a good book gave shape to a profound dream he had while he was in prison, and this issue’s interview is with campaigning barrister and director of Just for Kids Law Shauneen Lambe, who speaks about her work with prisoners on death row in Louisiana.

You can buy your copy of The Reader magazine in Waterstones Liverpool One and a range of other stockists around the UK, or online via our website, where you’ll also be able to purchase a year long subscription for the UK, abroad or institutions:

“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place.  In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things.  And we’re listening to each other.  I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.” – See more at: