A prohibition on books being sent to prisons within England and Wales was declared unlawful on Friday in the High Court. The policy of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was challenged by Barbara Gordon-Jones, an inmate with a doctorate in English Literature. The conditions on the sending of books to these facilities was part of reforms to the rewards scheme and was started last year in an attempt to protect from contraband entering correctional facilities in packages sent to inmates.
Mr Justice Collins said he was unable to see “good reason” to prohibit the sending of books and that he was satisfied that the measures were not based on the law. The ruling was a victory for Gordon-Jones who is serving an indefinite sentence at Send prison in Surrey. The judge also acknowledged that she wanted to read books that were usually unavailable to inmates. Having been rebuffed for legal aid she managed to bring her court challenge due to lawyers being prepared to represent her for free. Liberal Democrat Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, said last month that “we want education in prison. We want people to know that from the moment people will go in they will get help and rehabilitation”.
The ruling may go some way to change the access that inmates have to books and other reading material. Furthermore, it might boost efforts for rehabilitation for inmates in an attempt to reduce numbers of repeat inmates. It is expected that the policy may be altered due to the ruling and therefore might change ways in which packages and correspondence may be sent into these facilities from family and friends. Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate and an opponent to the policy stated that “this is a wise, just and irrefutably correct ruling” which highlights the perspective of many of the authors and writers who opposed the policy.
The policy had many opponents including well-known author Philip Pullman who stated “I’m very glad that the courts have seen through it, and stated that reading is a right and not a privilege”. Reacting to the ruling a Prison Service Spokesperson stated that it was “a surprising judgement” and that “inmates have access to the same public library service as the rest of us, and can buy books through the prison shop”. Whilst the ruling was made with knowledge that these services were available to inmates Mr Justice Collins stated that he thought they might only be limited to “what is required by volumetric control”. Opponents might believe that the provision of books by family and friends might play a key role in the rehabilitation of inmates and the personal development that reading might bring to many people.
The ruling may change the way in which friends and families feel they may be able to contribute to this rehabilitation that is an important part of the justice system. Equally, is seems that Mr Justice Collins sees the control of the provision of reading materials to be unlawful whilst many opponents to the measures might believe that the provision of reading materials might be seen as a way of supporting a family member or friend in rehabilitation. Furthermore, reading may be seen to have some sort of productive effect on inmates who may have mental challenges where reading may provide some therapeutic benefits in dealing with their situation. It might seem that the ruling may further the use of reading as a method of rehabilitation within the justice system and also be an outlet from which people may reflect on their situation through association with a particular book. Rehabilitation is an important part of the justice system and the recent ruling may change the role which books and literature might play within the attempt by the justice system to change the perspectives and prospects of inmates.
How might the ruling change rehabilitation within the UK justice system?