Skip Content

24 Mar 2014

Books in prisons

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has written an article for about restrictions on sending books and essentials to prisoners:

Changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme were announced by the Ministry of Justice in April 2013 and came into effect in November 2013. Details of the new scheme are contained in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013.

Paragraphs 10.4 and 10.5 of the PSI prohibit prisoners receiving parcels, including those from family and friends. There are two exceptions to the rule: 1) a one-off parcel can be sent following conviction; 2) items may be sent in exceptional circumstances – both exceptions are at the discretion of the governor. Examples of exceptional circumstances include ‘disability/health aids or an artefact for religious observance, stamped-addressed envelopes so as to facilitate a prisoner’s ability to communicate or where there is a need to replace clothing due to restricted access to laundry facilities.’ (paragraph 10.4)

The ban on receiving parcels does not just affect books, but also birthday presents, underwear, clothing, writing paper and pens and anything else that a family member or friend might want to send in. Prisoners are still allowed to receive letters.

Prisoners are able to purchase items themselves as long as they are listed on the NOMS National Product List (not publicly available) or through a supplier approved by the prison governor (for example, many prisons allow prisoners to purchase a limited range of items from the Argos catalogue). However, it should be noted that an employed prisoner is paid approximately £8-10 per week.

Today Frances Crook said: “If the Ministry of Justice allows prisoners to be sent cash from outside, then why on earth would they ban friends and family from sending in books and insist instead that prisoners must buy the books themselves? The reality is that most prisoners on an ‘entry’ or ‘standard’ regime will be allowed no more than £10 or £15.50 a week, which means that almost all a prisoner’s weekly allowance would be spent on just one title.  Even the most ardent book lovers tend not to spend all of their weekly wage on what they read. Over the last year, because of shrinking prison budgets, staff cuts and increasing numbers, prisoners have been spending even longer in their cells.

“It is common for prisoners to spend 20 hours a day in their cells during the week. At weekends they can be cooped up from Friday lunchtime until Monday morning. Conditions have deteriorated so much in recent months that this has become a major concern. In those circumstances it is the little things that make a difference. Being able to read a book is a lifeline and a way of nourishing the mind. As families and friends are now forbidden from sending basic items into prison, prisoners are sitting in stinking cells, wearing dirty clothes, with nothing to do and not even a book to read. We urge the government to reconsider this draconian measure.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. More details about restrictions on sending books to prisoners are available on the Howard League website.

Further information

Rob Preece
Press Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

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