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A new report has highlighted how a reading initiative within the prison network is helping change attitudes among those serving custodial sentences. 




An innovative reading scheme running across 124 UK prisons has been shown to have a positive and wide-ranging impact.

The Shannon Trust charity operates a unique model that inspires prisoners who can read to act as mentors and teach those who can’t. It is already improving the reading abilities of participants, but having an additional impact in the context of rehabilitation and in terms of changing attitudes and behaviours.

Boosting prison literacy


The findings were contained in Turning Pages, Changing Lives: An Evaluation of the Shannon Trust Reading Programme by Tom Hopkins and Alex Kendall. In the foreword Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, said literacy failure will cost UK GDP an estimated £34 billion by 2025 and is closely linked to employability and poverty in England.



“Nowhere is the literacy crisis felt more acutely than in prisons: 46% of people enter our prisons with the literacy of, or below, that expected of an 11-year-old child,” he said.
He added that enabling and encouraging prisoners to engage in the rehabilitative journey through improving their literacy is helping to “break the cycle of reoffending.”

Unlocking prisoner potential


The Shannon Trust aims to increase reading abilities of adult prisoners via Turning Pages, which uses a synthetic phonics approach to supporting reading development with a set of workbooks that learners systematically work through. The 2016 Coates Review has already identified the scheme as an example of good practice in unlocking prisoner potential.
Among the latest evaluation findings was evidence that Turning Pages is able to promote the word decoding skills and sight word reading of adult learners and delivers significant gains in word reading and non-word reading scores (regardless of their initial reading ability) during the first three months. Learners also reported an increase in reading confidence over a six-month period and were also reading more for functional participation within prison and for social engagement.

Meaningful goals


The authors - who said Turning Pages provided learners with productive opportunities to re-engage with learning, build confidence and work towards goals that were meaningful to their own lives - made a number of recommendations.
They included the need to promote awareness of Turning Pages across all prison staff and prospective learners, and also embedding the Turning Pages sessions into the prison routine and other learning/educational sessions.
However, they acknowledged that to fully test the scheme’s effectiveness, any outcomes measured would need to be compared to a group receiving a similar educational intervention.

New possibilities


The document stated that evidence from the evaluation suggested the initiative provided important opportunities for both learners and mentors “to reflect on their lives and to imagine new possibilities for the future.”

It added: “The Shannon Trust reading plans provide a successful, alternative, way of learning to read for the many prisoners who have had negative experience of formal education and struggle to engage in a classroom environment.”

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