Irvine Welsh slams prison service over book ban

Author Irvine Welsh has criticised moves to stop prisoners being sent books. Pic: David Cheskin/PA Wire.
Author Irvine Welsh has criticised moves to stop prisoners being sent books. Pic: David Cheskin/PA Wire.
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TRAINSPOTTING author Irvine Welsh has criticised the Scottish Prison Service over the issue of access to books after concerns over a ban on family and friends sending books to prisoners was introduced in England.

The restriction on reading material being sent to prisoners by family and friends in Scotland, introduced in November 2012, has come under the spotlight after a ban on prisoners receiving books was brought in south of the border as part of a new ‘incentives and earned privileges’ regime introduced by the Ministry of Justice.

The scheme caused uproar among writers and civil liberties groups last month, who likened it to measures seen at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Author Welsh and poet Jackie Kay have added their names to a letter condemning UK justice Secretary Chris Grayling for introducing the book rule south of the border.

And they argued there should be no restrictions on access to books in prisons, supposed to be places of rehabilitation and education.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it brought in some restrictions after intelligence operations suggested it could minimise the risk of contraband such as drugs and mobile phones “entering establishments via prisoner correspondence.”

Welsh condemned the idea of “nanny bureaucrats” having power over reading.

“Who should decide what people read?,” he said.

“It should be on the individual themselves.”

Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay said: “Reading educates you and education can take you out of the darkness and into the light.

“It is vitally important that all our prisoners have as wide a reading opportunity as possible and that right to read is not hampered or tampered with in any way at all.”

The policy means prisoners in Scottish jails cannot have reading material sent to them unless it has been purchased through a pre-approved supplier such as amazon.

Critics claim the policy is limiting the availability of books in prison, as prisoners and their families may not have spare cash or access to a credit card to order online.

Last month, two men were found guilty of supplying £16,500 worth of diamorphine and £1000 worth of cocaine - smuggled into HMP Edinburgh in the spine of books.

Lisa Mackenzie, spokeswoman for penal reform charity Howard League Scotland, highlighted concerns that many prison libraries are poorly stocked or have restricted access, such as not being open in the evenings or at weekends.

Last year an inspection of HMP Edinburgh noted the library was frequently closed, while a report on HMP Low Moss at Bishopbriggs said the library was not well stocked.

Mackenzie said: “Receiving reading material sent in by family members and friends can be a lifeline for some prisoners.

“It helps those in custody maintain vital links with the outside world and again, we know that maintaining strong family relationships can contribute to reduce reoffending.”

An SPS spokeswoman said the policy only applied to books intended for individual prisoners and not those gifted to for general prisoner use.

She said books could be ordered from companies such as Amazon or Waterstones, as long as they were directly from the company and clearly markers as a commercial package.

A SPS spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Prison Service actively encourages those in our custody to engage in reading by staging various events, including author visits, book festivals and creative activities such as literary reviewing, in partnership with our learning providers across the estate.

“There are various options available to prisoners who wish to access reading material as well as receiving books from family and friends, including sourcing titles from the extensive libraries in our learning centres, where staff are more than happy to try and locate a specific book if it’s not available, free of charge, with assistance from community libraries.”

The new regime prevents prisoners being sent parcels, previously allowed at the discretion of jail governors, except in exceptional circumstances such as for provision of medical supplies.

Reform campaigners say that as well as books, other items, such as underwear and stationery, are being restricted. Inmates have to buy items from prison shops instead.