Chance for negotiations in prison book ban fight as authors seek meeting with Grayling

Chris Grayling has been urged to sit down for a face-to-face meeting with some of Britain's leading authors, amid a continued campaign against the ban on prisoners receiving books.

In a letter to be sent to the justice secretary today, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time author Mark Haddon asked for a meeting so they could put the case for an ease in the restrictions.

"If the Ministry of Justice hopes this issue will go away, we are afraid they have another thing coming," Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said.

"The country's leading authors continue to question the wisdom of a policy on banning loved ones from sending in books and other essentials to prisoners.

"Whilst we continue to campaign and are considering possible legal action, the time has come to discuss an amicable solution. We hope ministers will take our offer seriously."

The letter is the latest stage of a campaign by the Howard League to change the rule, with Grayling undergoing an unenviable fortnight of legal threats, protests, and letter and Twitter campaigns.

The justice secretary is also facing possible legal action, as human rights lawyers suggest the ban on prisonsers being sent parcels could count as cruel and degrading treatment.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition and sent photographs of bookshelves to the Ministry of Justice's Twitter account using the hashtags #shelfie and #booksforprisoners.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, added: "The government has so far failed to provide a satisfactory response to the widespread concern about the restrictions on sending books to prisoners.

"Through our work in prisons, we’ve seen at first hand the fundamental importance of access to literature.

"Some of the country’s most eminent writers are now seeking an opportunity to discuss a way forward – I'm hopeful that ministers will be prepared to review a misguided policy."

The book ban is part of Grayling's policy for an 'earned privileges' scheme, which forces prisoners to acquire funds for products they want to use.

Critics say the scheme should be restricted to luxury items rather than potentially rehabilitating products like books.