At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Northern Ireland Prison Service put in place a ban on books in prison. More than one year on, as the pandemic eases, the Northern Ireland Prison Serviceâs continued restriction of access to reading materials such as books and magazines is a shocking violation of the human rights of people inside.
Restrictive measures including being held in cells for up to 23 hours a day were accepted by people in prison and their families in the interests of public health. 18 months on, for the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to maintain a ban on books and other publications at any time, let alone while visiting rights have been gutted due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, is a devastating attack upon the lives of all those currently held within the prison system. In recent times, similar book bans within the English prison system quickly led to this horrific decision being overturned.
Restrictions placed on personal movement and interaction with others can prove detrimental to the mental health of people in prison as they are denied the ability to form social bonds with others and foster community inside the prison walls. We believe it is essential to challenge the decision by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to continue to outlaw books and other reading materials while simultaneously restricting prisoners’ interactions with those inside and outside the prison. The actions of NIPS are a blatant denial of prisoners’ human rights at a time when society at large is recovering from prolonged periods of relative social isolation.
A spokesperson for the IWOC, a union directly linked to the radical Industrial Workers of the World, called upon the NIPS to end the book ban “immediately”. In a statement issued they said “Incarcerated Workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic have been hit hard with restrictions of movement seeing prisoners locked up for 23 hours a day. Reading materials are vital for prisoners, it’s a lifeline for everyone to be able to immerse themselves in books, pamphlets, magazines and newspapers. To have that restricted, withheld or banned is a denial of prisoners basic human rights and we call upon those within the Northern Ireland Prison Service to lift the ban immediately as it runs counter to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Prisoners have even been refused books, reading materials and even accessing music interests if it wasn’t bought from a reputable outlet such as from multinational corporations as Amazon. This in turn prevents those incarcerated from accessing material of their choice such as small independent publishers and distributors who actually have a wider range of reading materials which are fundamental to freedom of choice. Effectively this is a ban on books to prisoners by another name. At present there is currently only regulated access to book distributors which NIPS approve of such as Amazon. This in turn dramatically limits financially what a prisoner can access. There is also a ban on books and publications which family and friends send in from the outside. No matter what way they dress it up, this is fundamentally a ban on books by another name.
The Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee demand that the Northern Ireland Prison Service immediately end their policy of banning books and reading materials across the prison system. This must not be allowed to continue. We call upon those interested in human rights and social justice, to writer’s, independent publishers, artists and musicians to help add their voice by supporting prisoners human rights by also demanding that this be stopped immediately.
This petition will be emailed to the Northern Ireland Prison Service and Naomi Long, as the Minister responsible for the Department of Justice. Sign and share to help make sure people in Northern Irish prisons have access to books. PETITION HERE