High court rules that English/Welsh prisoners should be allowed to read books


A literature Ph.D. arsonist?

“It was a pleasure to burn.It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history…"

Okay that out of the way, I hate the instinct of folks to – in effect – walk across the battlefield looking to shoot the wounded. She’s in prison, where she ought to be – an arsonist, and all – I cannot grok the instinct to make it worse.


Books? Books!? Next thing you know, they’ll be having ideas!


As a compromise, only books in Welsh will be allowed.


In contrast, there are places (parts of Brazil and Italy) where prisoners actually get time taken off their sentence for each book they read up to a certain number per year.


This appears to be the court’s opinion

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It strikes me often we live in a vengeful and bloodthirsty world these days (maybe always). Someone caused pain or distress, MAKE THEM PAY! Well, maybe if you tried to make things right before we caught you we’ll go just a little easy. But if we catch you first! (shakes fist)

I used to preach restorative justice to all listeners: Put down the revenge a minute and try training these schlubs not to be criminals. Supposedly sometimes it actually works.
And most friends would listen politely and never discuss the subject in my presence again.

But I’ve learned over the years. Oh, my naivety!
Programs cost money, we’re not paying to improve the life of someone who caused harm. What kind of message would that send? If punishment doesn’t teach them to be better, then maybe some more punishment will help. And if not, then at least we can shrug our shoulders knowing we tried and they got what they deserved.

I’ve really got to put aside the cynicism and start writing letters to someone who can change this. Or something.
The whole cultural outlook on criminal justice and the treatment of prisoners makes me feel frustrated and impotent to effect any change.


While I completely agree with you in general that justice should, in an ideal world, not be about vengeance, there is a problem. In a modern system that generally pretends to follow rule of law (except when it involves cops or government officials) we all give up our right to pursue personal revenge and vendettas to the law and the justice system. With crimes that actually have a victim (how fucked up is it that I have to make that qualification, anyway), there needs to be a sufficient amount of retribution in the state’s justice to satisfy the victim’s desire for revenge in order to convince the victims to let the justice system handle it rather than taking matters into their own hands. (though most of the people baying for revenge are simply vindictive shits who were never victimized by the people they want revenge on.)

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But not letting them read books?

The loss of freedom is meant to be the retribution. You go to prison as a punishment, not to be punished.

The victims have the least objective opinion. Extracting retribution doesn’t do a damn bit of good, although I understand the desire for it. Generally, I’m more interested in minimizing the rate of reoffending.

It’s right for victims to ask for compensation, which the state does not provide. It’s reasonable to ask for assurances that this will not happen again. It’s not right to ask for revenge, so that’s what the state does provide. Frak revenge.


The ban was on friends or family sending books, prisoners were not banned from reading books despite cory’s hyperbolic headline.

I think some people should be made to pay. I just think confinement is sufficient punishment and some things merit the rest of your life in the big house. But it needn’t be squeezed so that any tiny comfort is removed.

Oh please. Read jerwin’s link. If you tell me that I can read all the books I want as long as they’re from the library and all the books in said library are spy novels, you have effectively banned me from reading.

And while that’s not precisely what happened, it’s pretty damned close to it given that the claimant holds a doctorate in English Literature and her solicitor was prevented from bringing her the literature she had asked for. While she could request additional books from the library, if they weren’t books other prisoners were likely to want to read, the Library wouldn’t bother.

The court ruled that this constituted a ban and I agree. Thus, the headline is not hyperbolic. Even if it wasn’t that clear, “should be allowed to read books” doesn’t seem to stretch to the extent of hyperbolism.


I wasn’t suggesting not letting them read books. Being in prison is certainly punishment enough. It was more of an abstract rumination on how we can’t completely get away from the idea of retribution if we want people to accept the judgements of the court and not take matters into their own hands.

That’s fine for you. The real question is, if it’s a crime with a victim, and that victim will feel better if they get revenge, then maybe we owe it to the victim to provide that.

Yeah, but which crimes merit having to “pay”, and how much? Should we go by the person who hungers for criminals to pay the least? Or the most (what we’re working toward)?

I guess we could take a vote on it, see how vengeful the majority feels this year.

My philosophy on these things is that the criminal justice system should really do thee things:

  • Prevent immediate further harm. If you are convinced they are highly likely to keep doing something harmful, do what’s necessary to stop it. This and flight risks are the only reasons I can think of being justified for incarceration.

  • Benefit the harmed. I don’t actually think vengeance does this, but it’s the way of the world and what do I know? If someone did something awful to me or my family I’d probably hunger for retribution. I’ve longed for others who’ve wronged me to get their comeuppance in the past. But before being hurt, and after getting my reward, it knots my stomach to think how much I desired suffering in this world be increased so that I be satisfied.

  • Reduce recidivism. The altruist in me wants to make the criminal be of more positive character for their own sake once they’re out. The inner pragmatist wants to make sure they won’t hurt anyone again after released. Is there any evidence that throwing someone in a hellhole for a few months or years actually helps them avoid crime once they’re released? And if so, does it work the same for all classes of criminals?


And that’s where the books come in. For at least part of it.


I learned on “Inspector Lewis.” that books can still be dangerous

I’ve volunteered for The Inside Books Project. Originally the idea of prisons was to rehabilitate prisoners, and steer them in a better direction for their re-emergence into society. If that’s to be at all likely to happen, I think prisoners ought to be encouraged to read as many books as possible.


That’s only true for certain ideas of rehabilitation. Some of these ideas are mentioned in this Time Team Special

For instance, some believed that people would be rehabilitated if they were left alone with god–so penitentiaries were built that kept prisoners isolated from any human contact. Some believed that prisoners needed to learn a work ethic, so they turned cranks all day.

Yes, at some point, rehabilitation meant preparing the prisoner for reentering society. But that was a later development, though unfortunately, not a stable one.