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7 Nov 2014

Books For Prisoners: Prisoners to be allowed more than 12 books in their cells

The Howard League Books For Prisoners campaign won an important victory today (Friday 7 November) as the Ministry of Justice agreed to increase the number of books that prisoners can keep in their cells.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has sent an “urgent” policy update to prison governors, granting them permission to allow prisoners to hold more than 12 books at a time.

The rule change, which has been introduced “with immediate effect”, follows months of campaigning.  Tens of thousands of people, including dozens of leading writers and the Prison Governors’ Association, have called on the government to review restrictions which prevent families and friends sending books and other essentials to prisoners.

High-profile supporters of the campaign include the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bennett, Sir David Hare, Samuel West, Mark Haddon, Monica Ali, Sarah Waters, Monica Ali, Jacqueline Wilson, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Samuel West, Kathy Lette, AL Kennedy and Joanne Harris.

Books For Prisoners has received media coverage across the world and the government’s stance has been condemned by international writers and former prisoners of conscience including Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. An equivalent campaign has been launched in Russia.

The NOMS policy update, dated 7 November, states: “Given the particularly important role books can play in rehabilitation, with immediate effect, Governors may exercise a discretion to allow prisoners to have more than 12 books in possession where they are below their overall volumetric control limit. This amendment applies to books only.”

The ban on sending books and other essentials into prisons remains in place, however, and the Books for Prisoners campaign will continue until the policy has been fully reversed.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is an important victory for our campaign. It is encouraging that the government has recognised the important role that books can play in rehabilitation. But the campaign does not stop here. Petty and counter-productive restrictions on sending books and other essentials to prisoners remain in place, and calls for the Ministry of Justice to fully reverse its policy are only getting louder against a backdrop of ever more overcrowding, growing unrest and an alarming rise in the number of suicides behind bars.”

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said: “Lifting this restriction is a positive step, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem: how do prisoners get the books in the first place? Access to prison libraries remains extremely limited, and the ban on family sending books directly to inmates is still in force. The Ministry of Justice must urgently rethink its Incentives and Earned Privileges 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 policy update can be read online here.
  4. The Books For Prisoners campaign was triggered by an article written for by Frances Crook.
  5. For more details about the campaign, visit


Rob Preece
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