Good News For Book-Loving Prisoners

by Emma Cueto

Good news for anyone currently serving time in a British prison — and for anyone who cares about freedom of ideas in general. The limit on the number of books British prisoners may have has been lifted. Everyone add titles to your "To Be Read" pile in celebration!

Previously, prisoners in Britain were only permitted to keep a maximum of 12 books, a major problem since prisoners' access to prison libraries was (and continues to be) extremely limited. However, after a campaign backed by famous literary figures such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Joanne Harris, and Kazuo Ishiguro, among many others.

Well, the news isn't entirely good. Though prisoners can now keep as many books as they want, the question of where they would get their books remains since the rules against sending books to prisoners is still in effect. So don't throw out your list of books to smuggle into British prisons just yet.

“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,” said Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which played a major part in campaigning for the rule change.

“But the campaign does not stop here," she continued. "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."

It seems a little mind boggling that in the year 2014 when people can keep hundreds of books on their Kindles and download a new title with the push of a button, that the tens of thousands of prisoners in British jails would have access to only 12 books at a time with virtually no way to acquire new ones. And even though prisoners are now allowed to expand their libraries, the idea of not having access to new reading material sounds pretty awful, especially given that there isn't a whole lot else to do in prison.

It's especially ridiculous given, as many have pointed out, that books have the potential to be extremely helpful for rehabilitation. Studies have shown reading books can increase empathy and improve emotional intelligence, for instance. So keeping books from prisoners really doesn't make a lot of sense.

Then again, I'm also one of those people who never thinks keeping books from anyone sounds like a good idea.

Let's keep those rule changes coming!