Prison Libraries

I by and large keep contemporary politics out of this blog, but I’m utterly fuming at the Justice Secretary’s decision to prevent prisoners being sent books as presents.
They must buy them from their meagre wages, he says, or rely on the prison library.

I’m sure that prison libraries have improved since 1917, but I couldn’t help being reminded of these verses by conscientious objector Allan M. Laing (which I’ve printed before) about the library at Wormwood Scrubs:

Fiction Hash from the Prison Catalogue

Of stories of wooing
And billing an cooing
Comes first on a dull dreary list
The straight-paying copy,
From Garvice’s powerful — wrist.

From a shelf looming darkly
That dear Mrs. Barclay
Sings sentiment sugary-sweet,
While in hosts of Miss Braddon’s,
By no means all bad ‘uns,
Thrills, murders and mysteries meet.

There’s a few by Grant Allen,
Pett Ridge and Tom Gallon,
Of William de Morgan but one:
There’s a lot by J. Hocking
Whose chronicles shocking
All good Roman Catholics shun.

The works of Lord Lytton
(Of whom it is written
He padded himself and wore stays)
Are handed out daily
With those of Disraeli,
—An Early-Victorian craze.

Then with Thackeray, Dickens,
Come many fine pickin’s
From days when to write was to please.
There’s Lever and Marryat,
(Famous old tarry hat)
And piffle of A.L.O.E.’s.

Sea yarns by Clark Russell,
Which died of a tussle
With Conrad the polyglot Pole,
Are served up with sweeter
Romances by “Rita,”
Or Henry James Essence-of-soul.

With Caines and Corellis
We curdle our bellies,
And sometimes our slumbers we spoil,
With the smoke and the slaughter
Of Merriman, Weyman and Doyle.

But enough of these verses,
The metre too terse is,
The rate of progression too slow,
And if you’re still needing
To know what we’re reading,
Pray call on the nearest C.O.

But first go and bury
The thought that we’re merry,
Because there are books for all views,
Tho’ many and various,
Our pleasure’s precarious,
For seldom we get what we choose.


  1. Bill
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    The Justice Secretary denies banning books specifically, and says he has generally banned all parcels to prisoners (whatever they contain) because the Prison Service does not have the resources to search them all. He also claims the public favours a “spartan regime”, which presumably means prisoners will be encouraged to say very little, take physical exercise, practise for violence and steal food.

    • Posted March 27, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s is the problem. Grayling can’t see the difference between books and other comforts for prisoners.
      A letter in the Guardian today asked whether those jailed for non-payment of TV licences will be forbidden books in prison. Good question.

  2. Alan Allport
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry of all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”

    Winston Churchill

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