Skip to main content

Prison Reading Groups

1870. Sarah Turvey
1871. Jenny Hartley

Sarah Turvey and Professor Jenny Hartley, from Oxford and London, founded ‘Prison Reading Groups’, an initiative running in 50 prisons nationwide using book clubs to improve empathy and sociability among offenders.

Initially started in 1999 as part of academic research into the positive effect of reading for prisoners, the pair have continued to grow the initiative alongside charity ‘Give A Book’, donating more than 6,000 books a year to prisons. They also organise family initiatives to help prisoners’ bond with their children through books. Reading together – and talking about what you read – can connect people, improve reading and listening skills, encourage positive sociability and help prisoners feel part of a community. Many Prison Reading Group members have never read for pleasure before and the chance to share books with others can be transformative.

In a personal letter to Sarah, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“Thank you for your fantastic initiative ‘Prison Reading Groups’ through which you have helped thousands of prisoners to discover the joy of reading.

“Alongside Jenny, you have provided over 6,000 books to reading groups right across the UK. Your work organising family-based initiatives is an innovative way for parents serving custodial sentences to bridge the gap of separation by finding a shared love of reading with their children.”

In a personal letter to Jenny, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“With over 6,000 books distributed, you have helped prisoners to develop essential literacy skills, as well as a love of books.

“I was particularly uplifted to learn of your family reading groups, which help prisoners connect with children and other family members over a shared story. This is a fantastic innovation.”

Sarah Olney, Jenny’s MP for Richmond Park said: 

“I’m delighted to hear that Professor Jenny Hartley is being awarded a Points of Light award for her work running reading groups in prisons. Reading can have a powerful influence on rehabilitation and this is extremely valuable work.”

Anneliese Dodds, Sarah’s local MP for Oxford East, said:

”Sarah is an incredibly worthy recipient of this award. Her work over many years has made such a difference to individual prisoners, and for many has had a lasting impact on their lives and prospects after prison. This shows how dedication and determination to share the love of, and benefits from, reading can pay off.”

Sarah and Jenny said:

“This is a lovely surprise and a wonderful way to highlight the importance of books and reading in prison. The pandemic was tough: many prisoners didn’t see their families in person for over a year, and many were locked in their cells for 23+ hours a day. Books were a lifeline, connecting children and parents over the phone and giving prisoners something worthwhile to think about and explore with each other, even when it had to be in writing.”

See more about ‘Prison Reading Groups’

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

Volunteer now

Search winners