Monday, 31 March 2014

The prison "book-ban"

I work in a prison library, so I guess I have some inside knowledge (no pun intended) of the recent "book-banning" measures that have been in the news lately. The fuss stems from a report that inmates will no longer be allowed to have books sent to them by family and friends, and letters have been sent to the press, petitions have been signed, and demonstrations have been taking place outside jails protesting at this draconian measure.
However, there's actually less to this story than meets the eye. The prison where I work has for the last couple of years implemented a system whereby relatives have been unable to send packages - including books - into prison, mainly because of the amount of contraband that was being smuggled in. One of the library orderlies told me that it used to be really easy to smuggle drugs inside books, and due to the increase in prison population and the decrease in staffing levels things were starting to get out of control. Prisoners do have access to books - they can buy them direct from Amazon in a sealed package (which usually works out to be less expensive than their families posting them in), and in the library we try to accommodate their needs, though it has to be said it's not always easy.

The most annoying thing about this whole episode is the wilful mis-interpretation of what is actually happening - the media are still talking of books being banned, with allusions to totalitarian regimes being made, and there are other stories about prisoners not receiving cards from their children, and so on. Meanwhile, there are many real problems affecting prisons and prisoners which we should be getting angry about - the creeping privatisation of the justice system, the demoralised staff and inmates, and the lack of support in society for those coming out of prison, to name but three - instead of an inflated and biased report which will prove to be a distraction from the real issues.

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