A right or a privilege? The Prison ‘book ban’

prisonToday, the High Court ruled the ‘prison book ban’ as unlawful, stating that reading is a right and not a privilege.

I am thrilled with the results. All the quotes in the BBC article above, echo my thoughts exactly – reading is valuable in so many ways, and essential in broadening our understanding of ourselves and other people. A valuable tool for anyone in prison.

“Reading is a right and not a privilege, to be encouraged and not restricted.”

But it’s a partial victory in a larger issue. I know two people who work in a prison and they are in an impossible situation (read this fantastic article to see how there aren’t enough staff to take prisoners to the prison library). They’re both under considerable strain at work; understaffed, underfunded etc, but yet, both of them come to volunteer at Bristol’s Wild Goose, a drop in centre that serves hot free meals six days a week. As you can imagine, the audiences overlap (it’s hard to get a job with a conviction or addiction), and my two friends care deeply in helping people to be the best they can be, to get them back on their feet – and ultimately, to be happy.

Many people who come to the Wild Goose or who end up in prison aren’t bad people. They’ve gone through so much in their lives, that it’s no wonder they’ve ended up where they have. You would have too. It takes miracles, exceptional people (and I mean exceptional), not to allow their past to shape them in a negative way. But those people are not the norm. Many people have been handed a life and a society that just isn’t looking to help them, regardless of their own good intentions to change. They’ve fallen before they can even stand up straight.

“So many of the guys thought they were stupid, because that’s what they were told when they were young,” an education campaigner says. “They do some learning in prison, realise they’re not stupid, get this thirst for learning and think ‘let’s do Level 3’ [equivalent to A-levels] – but then their options are suddenly limited.” (Quote from Ian Dunt’s www.politics.co.uk article)

Prison could be an opportunity for many to turn it around: your basic needs are covered, you’re removed from a potentially negative environment, and you have time to learn, to think, to understand and come to terms with your past, to re-educate and rediscover yourself and what you want out of life and how you can be happy. But prison isn’t like this. And it can’t be like this if we don’t invest in them.

“They are a bastion of rational policy-making against a perfect storm of budget cuts, staff redundancies and a brutalising message from the Ministry of Justice about the priority of punishment over self-improvement.” (Ian Dunt, www.politics.co.uk)

Ian Dunt hits the nail on the head in his article. We have some fantastic people working in prisons who genuinely care for those inside, and desperately need support and funding. We also need to change our way of thinking when it comes to prisons – the need for revenge, for punishment beyond incarceration – where is it really going to get us in the long run?

But ultimately, I guess it comes down to this: do you care about those in prison and how they came to be there?



2 thoughts on “A right or a privilege? The Prison ‘book ban’

  1. I was so glad to hear the news too. I find the attitude that prison is only about punishment – rather than about reformation and turning lives around – so frustrating. Even though crime rates are lower when society concentrates on helping convicts change, rather than just punishing them, people still don’t want it! It’s the same with voting – why on earth wouldn’t we want people who were so badly-treated and/or disengaged by society to commit a crime against it, to BECOME engaged by taking part in democracy. It would make more sense to me for it to be compulsory rather than prohibited!

    1. Good point Chloe. So true. It’s so difficult for people to understand the purpose of punishment – that it doesn’t work as a tool for revenge. And I can understand that, especially when it comes to some horrific crimes. But it just doesn’t work. How can we humanise people if we strip them of their humanity? Many of those in prison have already been dehumanised in life, and we need to show them that there is another way to live. It’s a very complex issue.

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