LEADING writers have expressed outrage that Scotland has banned family and friends sending books to prisoners.
The outrage follows recent revelations that prisoners in England and Wales were under similar restrictions.
Details about the ban in Scotland only came to light following criticism of the new rules south of the Border.
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Author Irvine Welsh and poet Jackie Kay have attacked the policy, which means prisoners in Scottish jails cannot have reading material posted to them unless it has been purchased through a pre-approved supplier such as Amazon.
Critics, however, say the measure is limiting the availability of books in prisons, as prisoners and their families may not have spare cash or access to a credit card to order online.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it was to minimise the risk of contraband such as drugs and mobile phones "entering establishments via prisoner correspondence".
Last month, some of the UK's best-known authors, including Jeffrey Archer and Salman Rushdie, signed a letter condemning UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for introducing the book rule south of the Border.
Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay, who also signed the letter to Grayling, said the restrictions in Scotland were shocking.
She said: "Reading educates you and education can take you out of the darkness and into the light.
"It is vitally important that all of our prisoners have as wide a reading opportunity as possible and that the right to read is not hampered or tampered with in any way at all."
Kay said she had recently sent a book without any difficulty to the acclaimed Irish writer Margaretta D'Arcy while she was serving a sentence in Limerick prison for protesting over US military planes being allowed to land at Shannon airport.
She added: "Our prisons in England and Scotland should be like Limerick prison. We should be able to send books to prisoners and prisoners should have a full and amply stocked library."
Welsh criticised the idea of "nanny bureaucrats" having power over reading.
"Who should decide what people read?" he said. "It should be up to the individual themselves."
Lisa Mackenzie, spokeswoman for penal reform charity Howard League Scotland, highlighted concerns that many prison libraries are poorly stocked or have restricted access, such as not being open in the evenings or at weekends.
Last year an inspection of HMP Edinburgh noted the library was frequently closed, while a report on HMP Low Moss at Bishopbriggs said the library was not well stocked.
Mackenzie added: "Receiving reading material sent in by family members and friends can be a lifeline for some prisoners.
"It also helps those in custody maintain vital links with the outside world and again, we know that maintaining strong family relationships can contribute to reducing reoffending on release."
Pete White, national co-ordinator for charity Positive Prison? Positive Futures, which works to help prevent reoffending, said: "I recognise the SPS has security worries about books being sent in by family members.
"But I would argue the tiny minority of security breaches there have been through books being sent to prison are totally outweighed by the disadvantages caused to the prison population as a whole by limited access to books and magazines.
"It is wholly disproportionate measure."
An SPS spokeswoman said the policy only applied to books intended for individual prisoners and not those gifted for general prisoner use.
She said books could be ordered from companies such as Amazon or Waterstones, as long as they were posted directly from the company and clearly marked as a commercial package, adding that value for money and prisoners' limited income were taken into account when identifying suitable suppliers.
The spokeswoman added: "The Scottish Prison Service actively encourages those in our custody to engage in reading by staging various events, including author visits, book festivals and creative activities such as literary reviewing, in partnership with our learning providers across the estate.
"There are various options available to prisoners who wish to access reading material as well as receiving books from family and friends, including sourcing titles from the extensive libraries in our learning centres, where staff are more than happy to try and locate a specific book if it's not immediately available, free of charge, with assistance from community libraries."