I started this blog to write about enjoyable things, but today I need to rant!
I listened this morning to a government minister on the radio blithely defending the new policy to stop books being sent to prisoners in UK prisons by their relatives and friends.
I have a friend who sends books to a friend of his who is in prison, and already the requirements are quite stringent. He can only send paperbacks and not hardbacks, for instance.
The minister claimed that the clampdown on packages was to stop the flow of drugs into prisons - but the more I thought about that, the less it made sense. Because the minister also said that a relative could send money to the prisoner so that they could order a book themselves. But the book will arrive in a parcel - so will the prisoner get it? And this doesn't work very well with second hand books - by the time they've ordered the copy that their relative has told them about and sent them the money for, the shop may well have already sold it. There's supposed to be a catalogue that prisoners can order from - but although the minister was asked about this, he failed to say who is putting out the catalogue or who is benefiting financially from it.
Oh, but they can borrow books from the prison library, said the minister - though the stock of books in prison libraries can be very limited, and are run from local council budgets - which are being cut so severely that many branch libraries across the country are being closed down.
Also forbidden are subscription magazines, which come from the magazine publishers, often in clear plastic wrappers. I really don't see how stopping someone's copy of Fly Fishing Monthly, or whatever the prisoner wants to keep in touch with from the outside world, will have any effect on the flow of drugs into the prisons.
Even more bizarrely, packages of underwear are now forbidden. Apparently, women prisoners depend on their relatives sending them underwear and other clothing because they don't wear a uniform. What are they supposed to do when they run out of knickers?
As Mary Beard, the academic, says: "Books educate and rehabilitate. Crazy to ban them being sent to prisoners in jail."
Not to mention mean-spirited.