The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling first announced significant changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme that governs the conditions that serving prisoners experience in April 2013. At the time this was largely publicised as making prisoners work harder in custody and to stop them spending their days idle in cell and watching Sky TV.
Lack of useful work for prisoners is rarely the fault of the prisoners themselves. Rather there is simply nothing available to them in prisons which have been subject to swinging cutbacks and who can barely afford enough staff to prevent disorder, let alone provide extensive employment opportunities for inmates.
Sky TV was of course only ever available in the privately run prison estate, never in Prison Service establishments.
What has recently come to media attention is one of the more mean spirited and incomprehensible changes to the IEP system; prisoners are now banned (as of 1st November 2013) from receiving books from outside the prison.
The changes to the rules banning prisoners from receiving items from family and friends was first publicised around Christmas, largely by the Howard League, who were concerned prisoners were effectively banned from receiving Christmas presents.
Whilst no doubt making life less pleasant for prisoners has significant public support, banning prisoners (who as a population group have staggeringly high levels of illiteracy) from receiving books represents a huge own goal for the MOJ.
It seems to run contrary to the Lord Chancellor’s stated aim of a “Rehabilitation Revolution” that necessitates potentially dangerous and risky privatisation of the Probation service.
It would seem the MOJ is content to pay private companies significant sums of public money to take over supervision from the Probation service, but the idea of prisoners improving their literacy at no cost to the public purse is anathema.
Prisoners are entitled to keep 12 books in their possession. Doubtless the MOJ will state prisoners are free to purchase books using the internal prison “shop”. Unfortunately, given the vastly inflated prices charged (given the captive market) coupled with weekly maximum spend allowed (at most £25.50 and for most prisoners £10 – £15), few prisoners would be able to afford books as well as phone credit, clothes and food.
The book ban imposed by the Lord Chancellor is indefensible. It serves no purpose than to punish prisoners, and also the public by shutting down a potential avenue for education, literacy and ultimately rehabilitation.