Is Reading a Right or a Privilege?

This post by Cathe Shubert originally appeared on Ploughshares on 1/27/15.

After almost a year of protests by free speech advocates and famous authors, the UK’s Ministry of Justice is going to give prisoners the right to receive books in parcels from family, starting in February. Perhaps the most curious aspect of this case is not that books, among other items that a family member might send via packages as personal property, were banned, but that this case saw lawyers demanding that law be more nuanced with regard to determining whether books are rights or privileges.

Obviously (perhaps more obviously to those of us who have inhaled two seasons of Orange Is The New Black) prisons restrict what is allowed on their premises to prevent the smuggling of drugs and other paraphilia—and it must be noted that the public library system in British prisons was never in danger of being removed. But this case still feels like a victory for free speech and art in one society’s most limited venues.

And it makes me wonder about our prison system in the United States. I did a tiny bit of research and found out that in Florida, inmates often are restricted to having only four books in their possession, and those books must come directly from a publisher or mail distributor—if a family member attempts to send a book via a package service (like UPS) it will be rejected, just as books were restricted in the UK before the amendment to prison policy.


Read the full post on Ploughshares.


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