A CHILD's request for their father to read a bedtime story may seem reasonable enough but it can be hard to fulfil if daddy is serving a long sentence in gaol.
A new scheme at Winchester Prison is attempting to re-establish this ritual by encouraging prisoners to record bedtime stories on tape - helping them keep family ties alive in the process.
The story-telling has been devised by Highbury College, in Portsmouth, which runs education services at the prison, and Hampshire County Council's library service.
Richard Daniels, the college's education manager at the prison, said: "It is a great scheme because it means the prisoners have further contact with their children and are able to feel they are contributing something to their children's welfare. It is early days but I think this has got to help with rehabilitation because it gives them a sense of responsibility towards the family."
British Telecom has provided a pound;1,000 grant to supply inmates with books and tape recorders, after a bid was made by Helen Hinder, the prison librarian, who is employed by the county council.
Convicted inmates are entitled to see their children once a week while those on remand, about a third of the prison's population, are allowed to see them every day.
Winchester's 500 inmates include murderers and sex-offenders. There are nearly 100 women.
Richard Bolton, 31, sits in his tiny cell at HMP Winchester, convicted of theft. In front of him are photos of his four children and his fiancee, a copy of The Three Billygoats Gruff and a tape recorder.
"My father was in the army when I was a kid so I know how they must be missing me," he said. "They speak to me on the phone and there are regular visits but this allowed them to hear my voice whenever they want, which will mean a lot to them, and to me too. It's a really positive idea for the prison to introduce. I'm going to make sure they get all the sound effects as well as the words."
A spokesman for NACRO, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said: "It is very important for people who are in prison to maintain good relations with their family. It is a small step in the right direction but we would like to see a lot more family contact.
"A more radical idea, which happens in Canada and is being tried out in France, would be weekend visits where the prisoner can be with their family for a longer period of time."
Leader, page 10