By Ian Dunt
Top authors and playwrights, including Stephen Fry and David Hare, have decided to include a character called Chris Grayling into their work, as the protest over the prisoner book ban rumbles on.
The idea of featuring the justice secretary in novels and plays came from Australian author Kathy Lette, who inserted a character called Chris Grayling into her book Courting Trouble, about a mother-daughter feminist law firm. The character is sent to jail and goes insane because he is denied anything to read.
The author told Politics.co.uk:
"Poetic justice is the only true justice in the world - and I say that married to a lawyer! You can always impale enemies on the end of your pen, which is why I made a baddie into Chris Grayling, in my latest novel Courting Trouble.
"This cause means a lot to me because I'm of convict stock (first and second fleet. I'm the crème de la crim!) and an autodidact (yes, it's a word I taught myself!)
"So many people in prison fell through the educational slats. Reading is a route out of ignorance, crime and poverty. And, with prisoners, we have a captive audience. Books are not a privilege, they're a staple, like bread and water. Every author I know is against this cruel ban on books."
Among the writers who agreed to Lette's request are Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time author Mark Haddon, Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter David Hare, TV show host and writer Stephen Fry and novelist and critic Margaret Drabble.
Authors have been at the centre of the campaign against the prisoner book ban since it was first revealed by Politics.co.uk in March. Hundreds of writers have denounced the ban, including poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, AL Kennedy, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Joanna Trollope.
Friends and family of inmates were unable to send in books after Grayling introduced a tough new Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme for the prison estate last November. The new regime banned any parcels being sent in to prisoners, which stopped them receiving books or even day-to-day necessities like underwear. As Christmas approaches inmates are also blocked from being sent in presents from their family.
The Ministry of Justice says prisoners still have access to the prison library and can spend any money they make in prison work on books.
However, most prisons are now operating with so few guards that prisoners are very rarely able to be escorted to the prison library. The average prisoner also earns only £8 a week, making book purchases an expensive luxury.
Labour has said it will undo the ban if it gets into power next year. It has also been criticised by Liberal Democrat justice minister Simon Hughes.
By Ian Dunt