Give a Book has been working closely with Prison Reading Groups (PRG) for several years, and in September 2017 PRG officially became part of Give a Book. PRG promotes reading for pleasure in prisons and provides support and funding for those who run them. Reading groups in prisons are a space for prisoners to explore a story collectively.
In 2020, COVID-19 made face to face reading group meetings impossible in most prisons but many of PRG’s librarians, prison staff and volunteers went into action straightaway to keep things going. PRG created remote reading group resources and guidance, including Book Talk, and now has over 40 reading groups running remotely.
In 2019, PRG celebrated its 20th Birthday.
The project began in 1999 and now run groups in over 40 prisons nationwide, and supply more than 3000 books a year to support them. Each group is run by a PRG volunteer alongside a member of the prison library staff. Each group discuss and choose a book title they would all like to read. PRG then supplies copies of the book to the prisoners to read.
“One of the few things I look forward to so I look forward to it for a month. One day where one can have an intellectual discussion and no-one gets worked up when disagreeing … one of the few places where we feel our opinion is valued.” Reading group member, HMP Brixton
The groups are informal and encourage reading for pleasure. Members choose what they read and the books are theirs to keep or pass on to others.
There is no single model for PRG groups. Each one develops a format that best suits its membership: experienced readers or those who have never read a book before; young offenders or older prisoners, perhaps with dementia; those with addictions or mental health issues that make concentration very difficult. Groups may meet monthly or weekly or something in between. They may read aloud or discuss a book read on their own in advance. Meetings may last just an hour or more than two, and group sizes vary from half a dozen to twelve or more.
“It’s the most grownup discussion I have in prison” Reading group member
“The reading group is one of the highlights of the library month. The prisoners who attend always surprise me with their comments and this brings other parts of their lives into the room. And I have read totally out of my comfort zone, I am so pleased about this” Library manager at HMP Bullingdon
“Members show each other mutual respect and tolerance, which means that even the most reserved come out of their shells and join the discussion. I always have a pleasant buzz on my journey home” Volunteer at HMP Grendon
‘What do I enjoy about the reading group? The social experience of being able to talk to other people and have a joint conversation point. Often conversations happen about the book outside of the reading group. The debate allows you to clarify your own thoughts.” Member, HMP Bure
The PRG website contains more detailed information on their work, as well as excellent annual reports which highlight the benefits of reading groups in prisons.