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Pentonville inmates win gold book award despite book ban

17:37 11 July 2014

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway

Pentonville in Caledonian Road, Holloway

Archant

Inmates at Pentonville Prison have won a coveted reading award, despite half of the jail’s prisoners having primary school level literacy.

HMP Pentonville picked up The Reading Agency’s Gold Award for the second year running, with more than 490 inmates joining the challenge between January and June, with 212 already completing it.

The prisoners had to pick six “reads” – books, newspapers, poems or plays – and record them in a diary to pass the challenge.

It comes just months after a large scale protest of authors, actors and charities was held outside the prison, in response to Justice Secretary Chris Gayling’s controversial policy to ban the taking of books in to prison.

Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and wellbeing said:

“Congratulations to all our prison readers. It’s a notable achievement and shows how far our reading initiatives and library promotions are firing-up imaginations.

“If you didn’t enjoy reading at school, it’s not too late to start the reading habit for personal development or for the sheer joy reading brings. Visit your local library to find out more.”

The Reading Agency’s annual ‘Six Book Challenge’ encourages people with low or neglected reading abilities to catch the reading bug. Those who completed the challenge were given dictionaries to help develop their vocabulary even further.

The library was one of the few saving graces at the institution in a damning report published by chief of prisons Nick Hardwick at the beginning of the year in which he concluded the library had improved and was well stocked.

He did however find that access was inadequate due staff shortages and planned activities clashing with opening hours.

HMP assistant governor Nick Walmsley said education was “crucially important” in preventing prisoners re-offending and enabling them to get a job and live a normal life, while Guest-of-honour at Islington’s former youth offender turned highly decorated SAS soldier and now military author, Andy McNab, spoke from first hand experience about how reading changed his life.

He said: “The Army Educational Centre Captain said to us – ‘You lot think you’re thick. But you’re not thick, you’re just uneducated. And the only reason you can’t read and write is because you don’t read and write’ – Today all that changes.”

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