Dear Chris Grayling: u r a stoopid head

Good morning!  On this week’s episode of This Stupid Planet, we’ll be discussing the Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, who it seems is a total nob.  Sorry Chris.

Anothony Horowitz, professional scribbler, discovered this when he came a-cropper of the Justice System’s nobbishness in his attempts to send a prisoner one of his books. He was informed that he no longer could. Since then many other sensible people have pointed the that this whole book-banning thing is totally idiotic. And I agree with them.

Prisoners have not been banned from having books, you understand. That’s a misconception. They’ve merely been banned from receiving them from outside. Actually, Grayling has banned everything from being sent in from outside, including books. Books being a source of ideas expressed through words – a sure path to further criminality.
He’s penned a weasel-worded response to the furore, in which he clarifies:

We want them to be doing more work, getting skills and training, not lying around watching television.

I can’t help but wonder whether or not Chris Grayling has ever visited a prison. He must at the very least have watched a couple of episodes of ‘Porridge’. His view that prisoners should ‘be doing more work’ reminds me of my crappiest high-school supply-teacher. He used to say that sort of thing, before our insistence on doing less work sent him into a nervous breakdown.

I’ve tried pretty hard, but I can’t think of any activity I would rather the nation’s convicts be busying themselves with than reading. I can’t think of a single item that I would prefer prisoners to have access to than a book. If I could choose a single activity for the nation’s wrong’uns and ne’er-do-wells to busy themselves with, it would be the one that’s being eliminated. What else is there to do in prison? There are only so many hours of the day that can be devoted to weightlifting and masturbation.

Prison libraries are now the ultimate arbiter of what a prisoner can and cannot read – this might seem opportunity for censorious shenanigans, but there’s a more practical concern, here: Prison libraries, you see, aren’t very good. I know, I’m as surprised as you are – what with libraries enjoying such a rip-roaring trade at the moment, I had assumed that prison libraries would be thriving. Not a safe assumption, it would seem. They are shit.

Not only are they shit, but prisoners usually have to wait several days before a guard can find time to escort them there. Where they’ll be delighted to learn they’ve moved up to twentieth place in the queue for the prison’s sole, dog-eared copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’. It must be quite annoying to accept a copy of Abbey Clancy’s autobiography for the eleventh time and return cellward. It might well provoke one into – well – murderous rage.

That’s not quite realistic, actually. What with two-thirds of the prison population having the literacy of an eleven-year old, I can’t imagine Dostoyevsky being in such high demand. Which is sort of the problem. If you can’t read, it follows that you’ll be less inclined to try to read. If that trying includes all of the bullshit I’ve just described, then you be even less inclined than that. Reading, you see, correlates quite well with being an empathetic, non-dickish, law abiding person. Not-reading, on the other hand, correlates quite well with the contrary. It would seem logical that the prison system be set up in such a way as to encourage reading, rather than stifle it.

So you would think. Prisoners can spend up to twenty hours a day in their cells. Twenty hours. Jesus, if you think eight hours stuck behind a desk/wheel/till is bad, then twenty hours must be excruciating. I suppose that’s now the desired effect. In spite of Grayling’s rhetoric, the current approach seems to have less to do with ‘rehabilitation’, than it does with making the prison system as draconian as possible.

The Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, has also stuck his oar in on the matter:

“All prisoners can have up to 12 books in their cells at any one time, and all prisoners have access to the prison library. Under the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, if prisoners engage with their rehabilitation and comply with the regime they can have greater access to funds to buy items including books.”

‘Privileges’? Jesus, just give them a goddam book! Are books such a colossal expense? There are charity shops overflowing with the things! How many books get pulped every year? I dread to think how many unwanted paperbacks are gathering dust at this moment on shelves across the nation. They deserve new owners, and I can think of few better candidates than those who actually have the time to read them.

Until next week.

PS.  As now seems obligatory: there’s a petition, which I encourage you to read and sign.

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