books in prison
Many people will remember a situation some years ago when there was a virtual ban on sending books into prisons. This was challenged and eventually overturned. Nevertheless, the situation is still far from ideal. Understaffing may mean that people do not get to the prison library often or for sufficient time and some prison libraries seem to be closed more often than they are open. A number of prisons are still keeping prisoners locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day - as at the height of covid in 2020 - this seems to have various reasons, perhaps because certain behaviours were reduced in lock-down or again because of a lack of staff.
In our experience, we often find that where we have been sending books into a prison with no problems for a year or more, without warning our packages will be returned and we have to start all over again finding out why the books were refused.
Inside Time investigated the situation and did get the MoJ to issue a statement (again) saying that famiy and friends (and charities count as family and friends) can send or hand in new or second-hand books.
Another problem is that prisons tend to move the goalposts on a regular basis. Suddenly a package is refused because a rule has been brought in saying they need to have permission to receive books. this means they write to us, we find books and write back with a list, then they ask permission and send us another letter saying they have permission and then we send the books. Sometimes it is refused again because they got permission from 'the wrong person' or because some permissions code has expired..... It's totally nuts, a waste of time and money and has no positive purpose.
It is very clear that books provide a welcome (and legal) escape for people in prison. It gives them a chance to learn new things, find new interests, pass the time in a creative way and may go a long way to relieve mental health issues and reduce self-harm.
We also often supply books to prisons for wing libraries, education departments or for special family events. In this case the books remain free but we do pass on the shipping costs. Where a wing library is an initiative of a prison resident we don't charge for shipping.
We invite anyone serving a prison sentence to write to us to request books to support their studies or for leisure purposes. We don't have any lists as our books are all donated and our stock is so large. By the time any lists were made they would already be out of date. You'll need to have at least 2 months left to serve since we sometimes have a backlog and also even when the books are received at a prison, they often take a while to be cleared by security.
Please note that we can't send books to family members to be brought in. We will send direct to the person in prison.
Where we can't find the exact book that is requested, we will usually send the next closest book that we have in stock. Let us know if you don't want any substitutes - and don't forget to tell us which prison you are in!
A gentle note: our free books are intended for the personal use of the people in the prison rather than for the libraries. If a person chooses to pass on the books to other inmates or to the library, that is up to them,
Where the libraries are poorly stocked, we welcome visits to help you out, but would appreciate a financial donation. We can sometimes send a selection of books for a library but will pass on the shipping costs.
“Many thanks, [the books] arrived just in time for the Yuletide lull and were therefore both welcome and timely. You did indeed make my Christmas…. What you do is deeply appreciated. With library access in the prison being very hit and miss – and frequently more miss than hit.”
2/1/23 HMP Stafford
“What a year its been! Somehow we’ve made it through and I hope that as you look back you give yourselves credit for the difference you’ve made to so many people living behind the wire.”
31/12/22 HMP Oakwood
“I have spread the word to my friends around the prison, and also had a word with the library about your good works. They had heard of you! I (and many others) really appreciative that makes our lives more palatable.”
3/1/23 HMP Five Wells
“I did not expect such a bumper haul a few days before Christmas… an unexpected but welcomed array of books that are invaluable to me…. I have been using these books already. I can’t thank you enough.”
12/1/23 HMP Whatton