The banning of steel-string guitars in British prisons has come under fire from a group of prominent musicians, including Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr, David Gilmour, Richard Hawley and Seasick Steve.
In a letter published in the Guardian newspaper, the 12 signatories urge the U.K’s Minister for Justice, Chris Grayling, to overturn the blanket ban on the instruments, which they believe undermines the important role music has to play in “engaging prisoners in the process of rehabilitation.”
The ban came in as part of the U.K government's changes to the “incentive and earned privileges” policy for prisoners in November 2013. The same initiatives earlier banned some prisoners from receiving books. Nylon stringed guitars are still allowed for those who earn the privilege.
The musicians’ letter states: “As most guitars currently owned or used by inmates in our prisons are steel-strung acoustics, this ruling will mean that these instruments are kept under lock and key until time for a supervised session, if the prison in question has provision for musical tuition.”
Solo star, political activist and Wilco collaborator Billy Bragg has been leading the protest. He also fronts the not-for-profit initiative Jail Guitar Doors, which provides musical instruments for prisons. Bragg said it was part of a disturbing trend.
“Of the 350-odd instruments we have given to prisons since I began the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, almost all have been steel-strung guitars,” he said.
“I've seen the positive impact giving prisoners these guitars can have first hand, which is why I am involved in this issue. There's never been to my knowledge, an incident in a British prison where someone has been attacked with a steel string guitar. It makes no sense – where’s the logic behind this? Where’s the thinking behind this?
“Almost all the guitars currently in British prisons tend to be steel strung, so this effectively means they’ve all been removed as it’s just not possible to re-string them all with nylon. They aren’t designed for that.
“These guitars allows the prisoners to develop their skills and do peer to peer work which has been shown as really important as the basis for rehabilitation. A number of prison staff have told me that that aspect of them sitting down together, playing music and learning, has had a noticeable impact on individual prisoners and the atmosphere as a whole.”
Read more about Jail Guitar Doors which has been supported by Gibson and Epiphone.