A host of music icons have hit back at a government scheme which bans steel-strung acoustic guitars from British prisons.
Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour is one of 12 signatories to a letter published in the Guardian newspaper which urges the UK government to overturn the ban, which came into effect in November last year.
It was introduced as part of changes to the incentive and privileges policy for prisoners – the same policy that banned prisoners from being given access to books. Nylon-strung guitars are still permitted, leading to critics branding the policy as arbitrary and illogical.
In the letter, Gilmour and the 11 other artists say: “As musicians, we are concerned to hear that the use of steel-strung guitars is being prohibited in prisons. We believe 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 practise between group sessions.
“As most guitars 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.
“The stipulation that only nylon strings can be used will not alleviate this situation. There are several practical reasons why nylon strings are not suitable for a steel-strung acoustic guitar, not least the differing methods by which nylon and steel strings are attached to the instrument.”
The letter adds that since the policy was introduced, there have been a total of 50 self-inflicted deaths in British prisons – more than double the figure for the same period the previous year. It urges Justice Minister Chris Grayling to investigate whether the restrictions on books and steel-strung guitars could be at the root of the sharp rise.
As well as Gilmour, the letter is signed by Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr, Speech Debelle, Richard Hawley, Scroobius Pip, Guy Garvey, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, Seasick Steve, The Farm and Sam Duckworth.
Bragg, who runs Jail Guitar Doors, which provides musical instruments for prisons, tells the Guardian: “Of the 350-odd instruments we have given to prisons since I began the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, almost all have been been steel-strung guitars.
“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?”
Labour MP Kevin Brennan says he finds the ban “baffling” and wants answers.