Monday, August 18, 2008

Smuggling Vacation - oh, the outrage! (buy a paper guv?)

Birmingham's Sunday Mercury newspaper has picked up on the recently published Him & Her's Smuggling Vacation, the comedy tale of two hopeless accidental drug smugglers and the nefarious gang of criminals hot on their tails:


You may recall that I reviewed it a while back and thought it was a really good book indeed, funny, well told and with great artwork. They didn't quite see it that way, preferring to do their best to start a nice little "Ban This Filth" style campaign.

There's an online version of the story at the Mercury website and Jas Wilson has scanned a readable version of the print story in at his blog.

As could have been expected the local MP; Khalid Mahmood is shocked. (In fact, I seem to recall from my time living in Birmingham that Mr Mahmood was regularly shocked about anything in the headlines and frequently popped up in the press and the TV news to say so).

“I’m absolutely appalled,” he said. “I don’t want to stop former criminals writing about their experiences. But to actually put information into a book like this which will only increase the criminal knowledge of inmates is highly dangerous.Prison authorities should have stopped this from getting into the wrong hands.We don’t want our prisons turning into universities of crime.”

One hesitates to question Mr Mahmood's knowledge of prison regimes, but aren't prisons universities of crime already? How many studies have shown that young petty criminals are better served by non-custodial sentences as they tend to come out of prison far more educated in the ways of the criminal than they were before they were incarcerated. Does he honestly believe that this book gives them any more information than they could find out from any long serving drug dealer or common crim?

And isn't the idea of banning books just because they happen to have details of criminality a rather unworkable and stupid idea? Where exactly does Mr Mahmood want to stop? Maybe Shakespeare next? After all, the Bard's work has illegal and immoral details everywhere from the guide to poisoning in Hamlet to how to plot a King's murder in Macbeth.

I thought we were meant to be educating prisoners to attempt to stop them being criminals? Isn't reading part of this? Again, haven't studies shown that any reading is better than none?

I'd like to think the major problems of society could be stopped by doing something as simple as preventing a few convicted criminals reading a comic book like Mr Mahmood seems to be trying to convince us, but I think the situation may just be a little more complicated than that and picking on a comic book seems to me to be just a convenient way to make a deliberately hysterical Sunday paper exclusive.

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