Books for prisoners

Latest news on the campaign

The award was presented by the actor, Larry Lamb

On 18 June 2015 the Howard League for Penal Reform was presented with a prestigious Charity Award to mark the success of the Books For Prisoners campaign. The campaign called on the government to overturn restrictions that prevented prisoners being sent books. It took months of hard work, hundreds of book donations, thousands of petition signatures and tens of thousands of "shelfie" tweets. But we did it – and that means 85,000 people in prison can now receive books from loved ones. None of this would have been possible without the support of our members and this award is for everyone who backed the campaignBooks For Prisoners was declared the winner in the Charity Awards' Advice, Support and Campaigning category after being selected by a 10-strong judging panel of voluntary sector experts. Awards judge Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said that it had “every aspect you could want from a campaign”. He added: “They identified an issue, approached it in lots of innovative ways and were really successful.”

Watch the video to find out more…

Credit: Charity Awards 2015/The Guardian

  • 12 July 2015
    The Ministry of Justice has said that the restrictions on prisoners receiving books will be relaxed so that they can be sent directly to prisoners. In January, the restrictions were relaxed in response to a High Court judgment but prisoners could only receive new books purchased through approved retailers. Now any books can in principle be sent directly to prisoners, although governors retain discretion if books are deemed inappropriate or contrary to the safe running of the prison.
    Read the Howard League statement in full.
  • 11 May 2015
    The campaign has been shortlisted in the 2015 Charity Awards, Civil Society Media’s annual awards programme held to identify, recognise and reward those organisations doing exceptional work in all areas of charitable activity. 
  • On 5 December 2014 our campaign saw a major victory, as the High Court ruled that the ban on books for prisoners was unlawful. However, the ban on sending other essentials is still in place. If you have found that prisons still aren't accepting books, let us know, email:
  • On 11 December 2014 the Howard League for Penal Reform and English PEN delivered hundreds of books to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and urged the department to send them on to prisoners.

Read our media statement about the event.

Watch a short video clip from the event.

Pictures by PrisonImage

The campaign

In November 2013, the Ministry of Justice introduced a blanket ban on loved ones sending in books and other essentials, such as underwear, to prisoners. This was part of a crackdown on what ministers have described as prisoners’ “perks and privileges”.

At the Howard League for Penal Reform, we know this is wrong. People are sent to prison as a punishment, not for a punishment. Books and essentials such as underwear should not be seen as perks or privileges. Reading books goes hand in hand with education, with rehabilitation, with humanity. We should do everything we can to encourage reading and not restrict a prisoner’s access to books.

We are asking that the Ministry of Justice reverse the blanket ban and return to the policy as it operated prior to November of last year, when it was at the discretion of the prison governor as to how many or what type of parcels prisoners could receive. 

The Howard League is pleased to be working on this campaign with English PEN, the worldwide writers’ association who campaign to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world.

Find out more

Show your support and become a member of the Howard League

Read the briefing on the issue

Books for prisoners in the news

Have found that prisons still aren't accepting books? Let us know: