Thirteenth Letter to the Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice,
Mr Chris Grayling,
26th March 2014,
Re: Book ban for prisoners
Dear Lord Chancellor,
Tough on literacy, tough on the causes of literacy: congratulations on your ban on sending books into prison under the newly written rules. You and I don’t need to read books so why should people who have committed a crime be allowed to receive them?
This media fuss is a good opportunity for you to promote your political career by emphasising your right wing credentials to the Tory grass roots. Dispatching the prison minister, Jeremy Wright, onto the Today programme (to not debate with Mark Haddon) whilst you wrote an article for the discerning readers of the Conservative Home website was the correct procedure; I liked your touchy prose:
• “A left-wing pressure group launches an attack on us over books”
• “We are bringing right-wing solutions to bear on social problems”
• “You can no longer get privileges just by keeping your nose clean…you have to engage in proper positive rehabilitative activity…these are the kind of changes the public want to see…a regime that is more Spartan unless you do the right thing”
It could be argued that reading a book is engaging in a “proper rehabilitative activity”. Some would say that the rules should be framed to encourage as much reading by prisoners as possible. Ignore them. The reality is that it would cost too much paying staff to check each book parcel received for contraband (or as you disingenuously wrote: “it would be a logistical impossibility to search them all”), and as you know money is the key driving force of every MOJ decision. Further, it is simply not acceptable that drugs should be smuggled into prison hidden within the covers of a book. (It has been said recently that it is easier to obtain drugs in prison than soap.) The smuggling of drugs inside has been a perk of prison officers for many years, and they should not be deprived of its benefits.
I know that books can be sent to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay and that books were sent to British POWs imprisoned in Nazi Germany and Dostoevsky received books in the Peter-and -Paul Fortress during his incarceration in 1850. Remember: the George W. Bush-era USA, the German High Command of the 1940s and an autocratic Tsar have no lessons to teach you. They are all a bunch of pinko-lefties, and the readers of the Conservative Home website will applaud you.
I see that several writers have added their names to a critical letter in the Daily Telegraph: including Salman Rushdie, Alan Bennett, Julian Barnes, Ian Mcewan, and Carol Ann Duffy. And another in the Evening Standard: including Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi and Jeanette Winterson. What have these people ever achieved in life that has done any good for the hard-working Daily Mail-reading taxpayer? I haven’t read a novel or a poem by any one of them, and I know you won’t have done. What presumption they have to challenge you. The man who rose to the rank of Her Majesty’s Lord High Chancellor, at the top of the legal tree. The man who became Secretary of State for Justice, in Her Majesty’s cabinet, “I always voted at my party’s call, I never thought of thinking for myself at all.” The man who rose without trace by being careful to be guided by this golden rule: “Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navy.” This left wing conspiracy must simply be faced down.
The important thing is to obfuscate the issues and not deal with the questions that are being asked:
1. Why is access of prisoners to prison libraries so limited?
2. Why are Local Authorities only sending their rejected and old stock into prison?
3. Can it be confirmed that there are no foreign titles in prison libraries?
4. Is it true that Open University courses for prisoners have become virtually impossible because of the access to book restrictions?
5. Why can’t the catalogue that prisoners can buy books from (if they behave well and work hard enough inside) be published for others to examine?
6. Which company profits from the monopoly of this catalogue system?
The important thing to remember is that your prospects of promotion within the Government depend on keeping these prison rules in force:
• It would cost money to check the packages.
• It would put in jeopardy the company that profits from the restricted catalogue system.
• You have promised George Osborne that you will save money, for the Treasury, during your time at the MOJ.
• You need to look tough and right-wing on this issue for the Tory faithful and the tabloids.
Do what is expedient, not what is correct, and use this opportunity to impress those who really matter.
Yours, reading between the lines,