Help prisoners to read on World Book Day

5 Mar 2015

Today, on World Book Day 2015, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) celebrates the charities and staff members supporting people in prison to read and calls for greater access to prison libraries to further their rehabilitation.

As PET alumnus Erwin James, Guardian columnist, recently said:

“When I went to prison I didn’t expect anything good to happen, I was ill educated and inarticulate. Thankfully there was a library at Wandsworth prison. Reading helped me to think and then, to learn. I’ve now been out of prison 10 years. Without books I couldn’t have made the changes into the person I needed to be.”

March 5th also marks a month since the reversal of rules restricting prisoners’ access to books which had prohibited family and friends from sending books into prisons. *1

However, the charity is concerned that access to libraries is preventing people in prison from gaining the support staff can offer, as well as a wide range of reading material.

Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“This year, on World Book Day 2015, we applaud the charities and prison staff members who work tirelessly to encourage and support people in prison to read. We know it makes a huge difference; many of the people we support have developed their literacy and communication skills and been inspired to think and learn through reading.

“We highlighted their experiences in the recent court case and are delighted that following more than a year of limited access to books, families and friends can now send their loved ones their favourite novels or specialist textbooks to help with their studies.

“However we are extremely concerned about access to libraries.

"Despite the many positive opportunities librarians and charities are offering, there are not enough prison officers to escort inmates into the libraries.”

On Monday 3 March a group of parliamentarians heard evidence from librarians who stated that while prisoners are allowed up to 30 minutes library time per week, this is not happening in practice and access libraries is limited due to staff shortages. *2

Across the country dedicated librarians work with prison officers and charities to hold events to support and encourage people in prison to read but HM inspection reports have also shown that without access to prison libraries prisoners will miss out, as the annual report highlighted only 38% of prisoners had visited the library once per week. *3

In PET’s recent report Brain Cells based on a survey of nearly 350 prisoners, 58% of respondents said better access to books would help them learn.*4


  1. The High Court judgment, referencing PET’s witness statement in support of this case, click here. The restrictions on books for prisoners are part of (PSI 23/2013 Para 7.1) under the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme.

  2. On 3.3.15 the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group heard evidence from Erwin James (as quoted above) and two librarians in Parliament on issues affecting prisoners’ access to libraries. 

  3. Figures from the Chief Inspector of Prison’s last annual report, 2013-14 read here.

  4. Download the full report Brain Cells: Listening to Prisoner Learners (Third Edition), September 2014

About PET

Since 1989, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) has supported prisoners to engage in rehabilitation through learning. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for approximately 2,000 people per year for distance learning courses in subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies.