The prison system is not known for its dynamism. When things change, they change slowly. So it's not surprising that the annex to the prison rules allowing books to be sent to prisoners has not always been enforced.
Several stories have come in suggesting individual institutions are still refusing books being sent in to prisoners.
Gracie Bradley was trying to send a book to someone on remand in Wormwood Scrubs. She contacted the prison, who told her to go through Waterstones, one of the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) approved retailers. She did this, including the prisoner's name and number.
"I got a message from Waterstones saying the book was returned. They said they'd had a few problems with prisons but their prison liaison officer was working on it."
The prisoner was moved to Thameside, where the problems persisted.
"I asked by email 'would you accept books?' They said: 'No, we've got a good library. If you send it, it'll go into stored property and he won't receive it himself. He either has to buy it himself or make use of our excellent library.'"
latest twist in my books-for-friend saga: serco-run(!) prison won't allow us to send books 'because it has a library already'— Gracie Mae (@graciemaybe) March 10, 2015
Bradley isn't the only one. Someone trying to send in a book to a prisoner in Forest Bank had their book returned. There were also problems getting books into Bullingdon prison. Parc prison, which is run by G4S, is also understood to be refusing them. Waterstones insists the books ordered were sent, but the prisoner in question never received them.
Last week, someone trying to send a book in to Littlehey prison was told by staff:
"Ignore what the papers say. We don't allow books unless they are about religion."
The person in question has written to the governor, but there's been no reply yet.
None of these prisons have a leg to stand on. The annex to 2013's Incentives and Earned Privileges document, which was forced on the MoJ after it lost a judicial review into the book ban policy, is remarkably clear. To be fair to the department, they did not just return discretion over book parcels to the prison governor. They gave individual institutions almost no leeway in refusing books sent in by friends and family. They have to accept them.
While there are caveats about taking a book into the prison in person, there are none for those ordering books through approved retailers. The annex reads:
"Friends and families of prisoners are able, from 31 January 2015, to order books from approved retailers, who will source and send the books on to prisoners. There are no set limits on the number of books prisoners can receive in this way."
If you're having trouble sending a book to the prisoner make sure you cite and quote from the annex. You can get to it by visiting this page, then clicking on:
30/2013 - Incentives and earned privileges (DOC)
It will download a Word file onto your computer. Then go to:
Annex 1: SENDING AND HANDING IN OF BOOKS TO PRISONERS – applicable from 31 January 2015
You should also contact the Howard League at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know. If it turns out this is a systemic problem, rather than just the standard story of the prison service being slow to respond to change, they'll kick up a fuss about it.