Inmates’ access to books has come under threat in the UK and other countries as have worked to ban outside reading material from entering correctional facilities. While the measure is obviously not aimed at reducing literacy or blocking access to entertainment, education, or information, it is instead an unfortunate sweeping catch-all aimed at reducing contraband.
In the US, one recent police sting operation brought down more than thirty members of a religious organization who were sneaking drugs into one facility by enclosing them inside the tiny laminated tabs that denote the different books of the Bible. The inmates received the Bibles and pried open the tabs, then ingested or sold the drugs to other inmates.
But literacy advocates, prisoners’ rights groups, and even authors have weighed in on the blanket mandate that prevents prisoners from receiving books from friends or family members; organizations have also been blocked from distributing reading material to prisons.
A discussion forum for the June 13th Reading in Prison day, an effort led by Prison Reading Groups in partnership with the University of Roehampton and the Prisoners’ Education Trust, brought together interested parties and stakeholders to determine what benefits there are to making reading material available to incarcerated people. Attendees heard from the heads of several organizations on the benefits of book access, as well as from prisoners who were able to outline what exactly it means to be able to read while incarcerated.
It’s hopefully not true that this mandate stems from lawmakers who aren’t fully invested in finding a solution. A number of companies already offer e-readers that would work well in correctional facilities, including some that cannot be used to access the internet or for communication outside of the facility. Findaway World even offers ones that come preinstalled with locked content that cannot be deleted or altered. eBooks lend themselves perfectly to this situation, and are a cost-effective, manageable solution should government leaders wish to actually resolve the issue.