Free books for prisoners and young offenders: unique collaboration with World Book Night
Lemos&Crane collaborated with World Book Night to give away over 7,000 books to 97 prisons and young offenders institutions across the UK.
World Book Night is an event organised by leading publishers that took place on March 5, 2011 to giveaway over one million books from a selection of 25 titles to members of the public who would then become ‘book givers’ to others. It was an aspiration of the organisers to include prisoners as recipients,and Lemos&Crane helped achieve this by making direct contact with key prison staff to offer them the opportunity to take part. Over two-thirds of the prison estate engaged with the project. Reports on how the books were chosen, used and promoted by prisons and how prisoners responded can be found on PrisonerActionNet or LiteracyActionNet. Here we set out key lessons and observations from our involvement in the project:
- Giving choice – prisoners were treated like customers and given a choice about the books they wanted to receive; managers and librarians didn't assume that the usual preferences (for thrillers,true crime) would predominate. In fact, the most popular book choice was The Curious Incident About the Dog at Night Time by Mark Handon, whose principal character has Asperger’s Syndrome
- Fellow insight – The books chosen (The Curious Incident About the Dog at Night Time in particular)gave readers significant insight into their own lives and to that of fellow prisoners or family members
- “One reader who came back to tell me that he had learned from the book more about his son's condition than from 16 years of dealing with the doctors and specialists.”
- Shared experience – prison officers and governors in some instances read the books that were chosen as well as prisoners, which was significant in generating common ground and a shared experience
- “It has made a talking point with staff and prisoners and the recommending of further books to read".
- Keeping promises – prison staff say that doing what you’ll see you’ll do is the ‘golden rule’ in working with prisoners to win their trust, co-operation and ultimately their engagement in rehabilitative interventions and activities that are on offer in prison; the arrival of the books came as a source of considerable delight to prisoners who’d been waiting for them, and brought evidence that the outside world was able to keep promises as well
- The meaning of a gift – finally, the project demonstrated that receiving a gift (something of beauty and value, received for free, with no strings attached) has a powerful uplifting impact on the recipient, that can transform moods and attitudes to those around them
- “One prisoner told me he had never won anything before and was so pleased to get the book he gave me a hug”