Artist News

Billy Bragg calls for end to prison guitar ban

By | Published on Wednesday 30 April 2014

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg has written an open letter to Justice Minister Chris Grayling urging him to overturn a ban on allowing prisoners to have steel-strung guitars. The letter is also signed by other musicians, including Johnny Marr, Dave Gilmour and Richard Hawley.

As previously reported, Bragg runs an initiative called Jail Guitar Doors, named after a song by The Clash, which aims to help the rehabilitation of people in prison through music.

In the letter, Bragg writes: “As musicians, we are concerned to hear that the use of steel-strung guitars is being prohibited in prisons. We believe that music has an important role to play in engaging prisoners in the process of rehabilitation. However, this ability will be seriously undermined if inmates are unable to practice between group sessions”.

With steel-strung guitars locked up outside supervised practices, prisoners are allowed to use their guitars with nylon strings. However, says Bragg, this is not practical because nylon strings are not suitable for this type of guitar. He continued: “We understand that there must be security protocols when steel strung guitars are used in prisons, but up until this ruling, access has been at the discretion of staff”.

Finally, he suggested a link between suicides and the guitar ban, saying: “There has been a worrying rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in the period since this new ruling was introduced. From October 2013, when only one death was reported, there have been a total of 50 self-inflicted deaths, over double the figure for the same period last year”.

Bragg and his co-signatories urged Grayling to look into this possible link to increased deaths as a matter of urgency, and to explain why the ban has been put in place at all.