A prison in Hertfordshire has U-turned on a ban on handwritten cards for inmates after public outcry. Image: Google Maps
A prison has been forced to U-turn on banning handwritten cards being sent to inmates after public outcry over the policy which would have forced families to use online card shops like Moonpig.
HMP The Mount announced the ban in a formal letter, shared on Twitter, saying “cards and photographs will only be accepted from trusted sources” specified as Funky Pigeon, Moonpig and FreePrints.
The ban was set to come into force from June 20 this year, with cards or photos sent directly from family and friends to be placed in stored property.
The Ministry of Justice has denied that a policy to ban handwritten cards from being delivered to inmates at HMP The Mount was implemented, or that it ever will be.
An MOJ spokesperson told The Big Issue that the letter’s contents had been badly written and was misleading of the policy in place at the men’s prison in Hertfordshire.
Prison Governor Paul Crossey outlined the rule changes in a letter to inmates’ family members, dated May 31 2022. The tweet sharing the letter, sent from the prison’s official Twitter feed, has since been deleted.
Justifying the decision, Crossey wrote: “We have become increasingly concerned with the threat presented by psychoactive substances. Such substances represent a significant health, safety and stability risk to both the working and living environment.”
There have been reports of paper letters being soaked in Spice, a synthetic drug.
Rob Preece, Campaigns and Communications Manager at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the move would have “only compounded the misery” of prisoners and their families who were denied visits for months during the pandemic and remain in restricted conditions.
“Sending cards and pictures is a vital way for children to remain in touch with their parents in prison, so this ban comes not only at a financial cost to families, but also a great emotional cost,” he said.
“The best way to keep drugs out of prisons is to reduce the demand for them. The key is to get people out of their cells and engaged in exercise, education, training and employment.”
The policy would have put an added burden on families already struggling with a cost of living crisis. Cards from Moonpig cost around £3.50 each, plus 95p delivery. A second class stamp costs 68p.
“Just one of many ways that imprisoned people and their families are taken advantage of financially. The cost of maintaining contact with a loved one in prison is actually very high,” said author Jendella Benson, whose husband spent four years in prison for fraud.
“Given that evidence shows strong community ties are what helps ex-prisoners land on their feet and can reduce reoffending, you’d think making contact easy between prisoners and their communities would be a priority if prisons actually exist to rehabilitate.”
A Moonpig spokesperson told the Big Issue they were surprised by the prison’s new policy on cards and had not been consulted before the announcement.
“We can confirm that Moonpig has had no involvement with the decision made by HMP The Mount, and all actions in relation to this matter are solely representative of the prison’s own safety precautions,” the spokesperson said.
Moonpig was founded by Tory donor Nick Jenkins, who resigned as a director of the company in 2011.
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “As part of our zero tolerance approach to drugs, handwritten greeting cards sent to HMP The Mount are currently photocopied and then given to prisoners to intercept attempts to smuggle illicit contraband.” This process is reviewed every three months.