If one were to list all the evils of capitalist society, the prison system would easily make it to the top. Prisons, rather than prisoners, are the main enemy of social emancipation. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's latest prison 'initiative' - to ban prisoners from receiving books – is petty and an appalling violation of prisoners' basic human rights. In prisons especially – where many prisoners have limited education – books are a way to improve understanding and literacy. Locked behind physical bars, they are now forced into further isolation – that of the mind.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform says in her piece on politics.co.uk: "These new restrictions relate to a downgrading of the system of rewards and punishments, ostensibly designed to encourage prisoners to comply with prison rules. Yet the ban on receiving books is a blanket decision, so no matter how compliant and well behaved you are, no prisoner will be allowed to receive books from the outside."
High profile writers have declared support for a campaign by the Howard League for Penal Reform urging the justice secretary to drop his ban on family and friends sending books and other essentials to prisoners. "While we understand that prisons must be able to apply incentives to reward good behaviour by prisoners, we do not believe that education and reading should be part of that policy," says a letter signed by more than 80 leading authors.
We are therefore proud to announce that a partnership between Verso and Haven Distribution, a non-profit charity distributing books to prisoners, has been launched. As a radical publisher, it is Verso’s commitment to fight for prisoners’ rights. Books should be the right of every person in this country – whether in prison or not.
Through a chance contact at a recent event co-hosted by Verso and the ICA I was pleased to make contact with Federico Campagna at Verso, and we have gone on to build a great ongoing partnership.
Haven Distribution has been assisting prisoners since 1996 by purchasing educational books for those who wish to use their time in custody effectively, through the pursuit of lifelong learning. We seek to encourage self-worth and raise self-esteem in inmates in the UK prison population, providing a structured service, which will assist in the resettlement of the offender back into his or her community.
Haven is a very small charity run by its voluntary Board of Trustees who maintain the distribution of books to prisoners. We have minimal running costs, the majority of our expenditures being allocated to the purchase of books and postage for our client group. We advertise our services to inmates of 158 prisons and young offender institutions and currently send in around 2,000 books per year. Contributions such as this one by Verso can therefore make all the difference.
We are pleased that, with the help of our supporters, we can continue to be successful in providing essential educational books for inmates who choose to use their time in custody to their advantage, and we hope that we can continue this success by assisting inmate's self-education and helping towards their resettlement in the future. Despite Chris Grayling's recent restriction on sending free books to prisoners, as a charity set up for this purpose we shall remain committed to do so.
We are looking forward to working in conjunction with Verso on giving prisoners new and interesting books to read.
We also welcome financial donations, however large or small, to support our work and you can contribute online: