Michael Gove has overturned restrictions on books for prisoners.
The Justice Secretary has ordered a rule limiting the number of books allowed in each cell to 12 to be scrapped, while relatives and friends will now be able to send books to inmates directly.
Mr Gove’s intervention – one of his first key changes to prison policy since being appointed – is part of a drive to prepare criminals for work when they are released and reduce reoffending rates.
Controversy erupted after rules introduced in 2013 banned inmates from receiving parcels unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. In effect, this stopped prisoners in England and Wales from being sent books, although they still had access to prison libraries.
However, a High Court ruling in December found that restricting prisoners’ access to books was unlawful. Subsequently, restrictions were eased to allow people to buy new books for prisoners through four approved retailers.
The changes announced today will allow friends, relatives and charities to send parcels of books directly to inmates without having to buy them through specified sellers.
Mr Gove is also removing the 12-book limit, meaning prisoners will be allowed as many books in their cells as they like as long as they observe overall limits on the volume of personal possessions.
He said: “We have more than 80,000 people in custody. The most important thing we can do once they are in prison is make sure that they are usefully employed and that they get the literacy and numeracy and other skills they need for success in work.
“One of the big influences on my thinking on social policy is Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.
“He believes that we should see all human beings as assets, not liabilities. I agree. Every individual has something to offer, every one of us can earn respect.
“People who are currently languishing in prison are potential assets to society. They could be productive and contribute. If we look at them only as problems to be contained we miss the opportunity to transform their lives and to save ourselves and our society both money and pain.
“All of us suffer when people leave prison and then re-offend, all of us benefit when individuals are redeemed.”
The rules on receiving parcels will remain but they will be amended to include an exemption for packages containing only books.
Governors will retain discretion to withhold any books which they deem inappropriate, not conducive to rehabilitation, or contrary to the safe running of the prison. All packages of books will be subject to full security checks, including using sniffer dogs and scanning technology, before they are passed on to prisoners.
The changes, which will come into effect on September 1, were welcomed by the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Chief executive Frances Cook said: “The announcement by Michael Gove that prisoners will soon be able to receive books directly from their friends and family members, or indeed from any concerned individual or charity, is a fantastic final coda to the Books For Prisoners campaign.
“It is particularly welcome to hear the Secretary of State describe prisoners as assets and not liabilities.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed: “We are amending prison policy so that friends and relatives can send books to prisoners directly. We are also removing the limit of 12 books per cell.