Since this issue came to public attention there has been wide ranging concern about the new prison regulations. The change.org petition is receiving steady support, and is now aiming for the 35,000 mark. People are concerned that because of the new regulations, prisoners have very restricted access to books, to gifts from their children, and to musical instruments.
The Howard League have been very active, not least through the #booksforprisoners twitter activity, which is being built on this week by English Pen, who are asking for people to tweet 'the book you would send to a prisoner, and why'. The Howard League have also obtained a legal opinion about the new regulations, and are considering the possibility of legal action. Many of us have written to our MPs expressing concern, and two Early Day Motions have been tabled.
What has been very striking is the widespread support for this campaign, across the political spectrum. Politicians ranging from Caroline Lucas to Nigel Farage have expressed support, as have members of all parties. Various prison stakeholders, including the Chief Inspector of Prisons, have backed the concerns. There have been many letters to newspapers, most notably last Saturday from a powerful group of Jewish leaders. Billy Bragg is arguing the case, in particular for access to musical instruments.
Mr Grayling has variously argued that the restrictions are aimed at security and preventing drug supply. When that argument was dispensed with, he also argued that they are aimed at controlling behaviour. More recently he seems to be ignoring the issue.
Whilst no one has any objections to security arrangements, nor to luxuries being used to motivate good behaviour, the concern is that books and cards from children should not fall within this remit.Those items should be available to prisoners as part of a civilised prison system. The regulations have gone a step too far, whether intentional or otherwise.
We hope that Mr Grayling will listen to the wide ranging concern, as he can no longer imagine or argue, as he did in Conservative Home, that this is just a bit of left wing agitation. It is time for him to show some flexibility, pause and agree to rethink.