One of the main claims made by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling during the debate over prisoners’ access to books is that “all prisoners can access well-stocked prison libraries,” (Chris Grayling, writing on the Conservative Home website, 25 March 2014). There are two pretty big whoppers there in that one short sentence.
|Full shelves... but how much access?|
I’ve remarked in previous posts on this blog that the key issue is access. Now, I suppose you could claim that ‘access’ could mean a once a year occurrence and that would still constitute ‘access’ – of a sort. However, I think that a sharp dose of reality is required in this case. This morning I received a letter from a friend who is currently incarcerated at HMP Lincoln (a B-cat local prison) and he has updated me on the latest situation there. It makes grim reading for anyone who believes in the value of education as part of the rehabilitation process. I don't usually 'name and shame' individual prisons on this blog, but I'll make an exception for Lincoln, given that it has also received some shockingly bad reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
Now, let’s turn to another of Mr G’s whoppers: the “right to order any available title” from the library service. Time for another dose of harsh reality, I’m afraid. According to my correspondent – who is studying hard by distance learning to gain a vocational qualification that will give him a real chance of gainful employment when he is released – he needs access to five specific course books.
Prior to the new rules introduced by PSI 30/2013 in November 2013, he would have asked his family to try to find at least some of these textbooks cheaply (second-hand or online). Now that route is closed, so he put in a request to the prison library – which doesn’t have any of the required titles in stock – to order the volumes via the inter-library loan system.
Last week, he received the response following a six-week wait, during which his studies have been held up: only one of the required textbooks is available. He is now despairing of ever being able to complete a course that he is funding himself… not the taxpayer. So much for the idea of rehabilitation through education and self-improvement. No wonder so many cons conclude that trying to reform just isn't worth the effort.
|"A good book has no ending"|
I’m thinking of getting a list of the books he needs so urgently and finding a way to get them donated directly to HMP Lincoln’s library, so at least he might be able to continue his studies. As the old saying goes, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
This is the truth – and the human cost - that lies behind Mr Grayling’s grossly inflated claims about prison library access, “well-stocked libraries” and ordering books through the prison library service. It’s all a bizarre mixture of half-truths, bogus claims and politician’s double-speak. Either he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about – which would be a concern, given that he is in charge of the prison system – or he’s knowingly telling whoppers. You decide.