National acclaim for Lewes Prison Library

The Prison Library at Lewes – provided by East Sussex County Council – has been named as the best in the UK.

The Prison Library team, which runs the library for inmates at the prison, received the inaugural Prison Library of the Year award from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

The award recognises outstanding work by people working in libraries in prisons and young offender institutions, who work to improve prospects for the estimated 60% of inmates who have difficulties with basic literacy. Many were excluded from school or have learning difficulties.

The team at HMP Lewes has recently been praised for its project with author Stephen Kelman whose book, Pigeon English, was selected as the focus for discussion at a visit by the author. Copies of the book have been distributed to all prisoners and staff, funded by the Man Booker Foundation and the National Literacy Trust.

The book, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, tells the story of a young boy on an inner-city council estate and was selected because it may have resonance with many prisoners. Pigeon English will also be serialised on prison radio, reaching up to 50,000 prisoners across England and Wales.

Councillor Tony Freebody, Lead Member for Community Services said: “Figures show that literacy is a significant issue in prisons with many inmates having difficulty with basic literacy skills. Our team at HMP Lewes does a fantastic job in difficult circumstances and they help prisoners to enjoy literature and equip themselves for a more positive future.

“This award is richly deserved and we are very proud of the commitment of our library team at HMP Lewes to undertake such innovative work to improve prisoner literacy.”

HMP Lewes has received a prize package including a trophy, certificates for all staff, including prisoner orderlies, books and audio books and an author visit to the library.