Accompanied by a host of literary brilliance, poet laureate Carole Anne Duffy took to the pavements of a London jail on Friday to protest Chris Grayling’s decision to impose a ban of books and other essentials sent to Britain’s prisons from friends and family. It is a tale formulaically Grimm-esque, an evil villain coming to counterpoint with a heroine of our time in a fight for justice. But this is no fairy tale; this is a chilling reality which has been viciously imposed on our prison system.
Grayling has argued that a system of punishment and reward has been ostensibly set to encourage inmates to comply with prison rules. However be it Twain or Twilight, knowledge and books should in no way be deemed a privilege, to be restricted as punishment. Would we deprive prisoners of food and water? No. Irrespective of the recipient, knowledge is not there to be earned and books must be viewed as a staple, free to those who wish to have access to them.
When bound to the walls of a prison cell literature offers inmates a myriad of alternative realities, a host of vibrant characters and alternative perspectives and opinions. Reading broadens ones vocabulary, instigates compassion whilst offering the most profound void of escape. The fact of the matter is that great novels showcase humanity at its most brilliant and enigmatic, so why are we not inundating our prisons with literature?
Understandably the lord justice’s imposition is not an outright ban on reading and books in prisons. However, with the supplies of prison libraries coming from local authorities coupled with the closures and meagre funding of local libraries it will no doubt be the prisons that will be the first to take a hit. Magazine subscriptions are also to be suspended so even those who may not be captivated by Chaucer will have the link to their passions and hobbies in the outside world severed.
The action is unspeakably petty, flawed and inhumane. Fundamentally literature should not be instrumental in rewarding good behaviour. Our society bewails the fact that children are reading less and tweeting more, endorsing the beneficial influence and power of the well read individual. So why is the government actively restricting literature to those most in need of rehabilitation? Obviously security in prisons must be of high priority but in this instance Grayling is oblivious to the fact that the only infliction reading can cause is a profound damage to ignorance.