We were delighted to host our first Crime and Punishment Symposium at the University of Essex as part of the Festival programme in partnership with English PEN, HMP Chelmsford, Essex Libraries and University of Essex.

Not only did it provide a fabulous platform to share work created during our creative writing workshops with by prisoners in HMP Chelmsford in July/August 2017 under the banner of Writing on the Inside – a programme of activity that is now into its third year – the Symposium additionally created an opportunity for a variety of different organisations and individuals, some of them ex-prisoners, others with family members in prison, to discuss the various challenges facing prisoners and their families, and the very real value of supporting reading and writing activities within the prison community.

It was a particular pleasure to welcome Guardian columnist and ex-inmate Erwin James to join in the discussion, and likewise Neil Chatterjee, the winner of a prestigious Koestler Award 2017 for a poem that he wrote during one of our ‘Writing on the Inside’ workshops in HMP Chelmsford under the tutelage of writer Femi Keeling.

Thanks to funding from Arts Council England and continued support from the University of Essex and Essex Libraries, Essex Book Festival will be supporting another series of workshops in HMP Chelmsford later this year. Our focus this time will fall on encouraging story-telling exchanges between prisoners and their absent loved ones, particularly fathers and their children.