Skip Content

3 Apr 2014

Books for prisoners: Leading writers request meeting with Lord Chancellor

Leading writers are to seek an urgent meeting with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling as opposition grows against the government’s ban on sending books to prisoners.

In a letter to be sent today (3 April), Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Mark Haddon will call for a face-to-face meeting with Mr Grayling to put the case for easing the restrictions.

The letter is also signed by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and Maureen Freely, President of English PEN.

It is the latest stage of a major campaign by the Howard League, supported by English PEN, calling on the government to end restrictions which prevent families and friends sending books, underwear and other essentials to prisoners.

Tens of thousands of people have shown their support for the campaign by signing a petition and sending photographs of bookshelves to the Ministry of Justice’s Twitter account using the hashtags “#shelfie” and “#booksforprisoners”.

Last Monday (31 March), it was announced that legal action could be taken against the Lord Chancellor if the book restrictions are not lifted.

Three days earlier (28 March), Carol Ann Duffy led a poetry reading outside Pentonville prison in London in protest at the restrictions. Actors and writers including Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West and Kathy Lette also read poems.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “If the Ministry of Justice hopes this issue will go away, we are afraid they have another thing coming. The country’s leading authors continue to question the wisdom of a policy on banning loved ones from sending in books and other essentials to prisoners. Whilst we continue to campaign and are considering possible legal action, the time has come to discuss an amicable solution. We hope ministers will take our offer seriously.

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN, said: “The government has so far failed to provide a satisfactory response to the widespread concern about the restrictions on sending books to prisoners. Through our work in prisons, we’ve seen at first hand the fundamental importance of access to literature. Some of the country’s most eminent writers are now seeking an opportunity to discuss a way forward – I’m hopeful that ministers will be prepared to review a misguided policy.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. English PEN is a charity that campaigns for the freedom to read and the freedom to write. Its outreach work includes running workshops led by writers in prisons across the UK.
  3. The campaign was triggered by an article written for by Frances Crook.
  4. Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Mark Haddon were among 80 writers and dramatists who urged the government to lift the restrictions on sending books and essentials in a letter to the Daily Telegraph last week:
  5. A second letter, signed by 100 leading figures, was published by the Evening Standard.


Rob Preece
Press Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system
For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094.

Jo Glanville
Director, English PEN
0771 302 0971

Tagged with

  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation