By Cara Sulieman
PRISONERS at one of Scotland’s toughest prisons have been thumbing through the pages of a thrillers, football biographies and CRIME novels as they while away their sentences in jail.
Inmates at Saughton prison have been taking advantage of their award-winning library as waiting lists the purpose-built facility reach record lengths.
And the choice of reading material ranges from football autobiographies to crime thrillers set in the heart of the capital.
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown tops the list as prisoners queue up to read the follow up to popular Da Vinci Code.
It is closely followed by the Lisbeth Salander Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, which includes the hit Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Football is also proving interesting with World Cup Stories: A BBC History of the FIFA World Cup flying off the shelves of the jail’s library along with George Best’s autobiography Blessed.
Run by Kate King, a librarian with the City of Edinburgh Council, and staffed by three inmates, the library has been attracting prisoners in their droves.
Now the only library in Scotland with a waiting list, more than 12,500 prisoners visited the purpose built building in the first year alone.
And instead of abusing the books, the inmates have been treating them well with no damage to the returned tomes.
The library was unveiled on November 24, 2008 in a purpose-built extension and included designs and fittings made by the prisoners themselves.
Along with books, it houses study desks and laptops to encourage inmates to learn and prepare for the outside world.
And today the innovative scheme came up trumps when it scooped first place in the Libraries Change Lives Award, run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
Presented by Mark Lawson from BBC Radio 4, the award cements the commitment the jail has made to improving inmates’ prospects when they get out.
One prisoner commented: “When I first came into jail I found it really hard to read because I wasn’t good at concentrating and I would have to read the same paragraph over and over but after persisting with it and practising all the time, I find reading just as easy as breathing.
“I have to admit that reading is now a hobby for me.
“I love it and I would be lost without it as it’s helped me through my sentence.”
Linda Constable, the chair of the Libraries Change Lives Award judging committee paid tribute to librarian Kate King and the work she has done.
Linda said: “This project demonstrates and evidences ‘changing lives’, and has made a huge impact on all the prisoners and the staff working in the prison.
“In addition, Kate’s approach, empathy and passion has driven this life-changing work, not only in the prison, but on release by giving prisoners improved life-chances, which in turn have a wider impact on their families, communities and society in general.
“It is our hope that the partnership work that has taken place at Edinburgh HMP will be an inspiration for similar projects around the country.”
But library bosses at City of Edinburgh Council said that they were just doing their job – but were “delighted” to receive the award.
Ian Kirkby, Library Development Officer, said: “Our work and focus is in making the prison library work to reduce re-offending and in supporting healthier local communities.
“None of us set out to seek awards – however it is delightful and uplifting to be acknowledged by our profession for our work in this project and a reaffirmation of the value of libraries in our communities.”
Councillor Deidre Brock, Convenor of Culture and Leisure for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Winning this award is a tremendous honour for our Libraries service.
“Through their dedication, vision and hard work, they have achieved something quite remarkable at HMP Edinburgh, and have unquestionably changed people’s lives.
“It has been an enormous success in helping prisoners to improve their literacy and employability, reducing their risk of re-offending upon release.
“My heartfelt congratulations to all our superb staff.”
Prisoner Top Reads
1. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
2. Lisbeth Salander Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest)
3. Leadbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule
4. World Cup Stories: A BBC History of the FIFA World Cup by Chris Hunt
5. Blessed: The Autobiography by George Best
6. Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series
7 .JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series