Leading writers have urged an influential panel of MPs to examine the impact of restrictions which prevent families and friends sending books and other essentials to prisoners.
Twenty supporters of the Books For Prisoners campaign have signed a letter to the Justice Select Committee, asking it to review the impact of changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme in prisons.
The restrictions to the IEP, introduced by the Ministry of Justice in November 2013, have coincided with a sharp rise in violence and self-inflicted deaths in prisons.
Salman Rushdie, Jacqueline Wilson, Monica Ali, Mark Haddon, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes and Joanne Harris are among the authors who have signed the letter.
The letter is also signed by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, as well as English PEN President Maureen Freely and English PEN Director Jo Glanville.
Addressed to committee chair Sir Alan Beith, the letter states: “We believe that this is a misguided policy. Reading goes hand in hand with education and rehabilitation, whilst research shows that informal learning reduces reoffending. It can also be a calming influence in a chaotic environment.
“We should be doing everything we can to encourage reading in prisons, and certainly not be restricting prisoners’ access to books.”
The letter adds: “It is surely only right that the impact of far-reaching changes to a government policy be properly assessed. In the absence of any appetite to do this within the Ministry of Justice, we ask the committee to examine the issue as a matter of urgency.”
Tens of thousands of people have shown their support for the Books For Prisoners campaign by signing a petition and sending photographs of bookshelves to the Ministry of Justice’s Twitter account using the hashtags “#shelfie” and “#booksforprisoners”.
In March, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, led a poetry reading outside Pentonville prison in London in protest at the restrictions. Actors and writers including Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West and Kathy Lette also read poems.