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Reading, Rehabilitation, & Lower Recidivism - Prison Inmate Search

Reading, Rehabilitation, & Lower Recidivism

The following posting discussed a reading program established in prisons throughout the United Kingdom. The majority of inmates in England have literacy problems. It is obvious that reading and writing skills are important in order to obtain and maintain employment. This English initiative required the participant to pick six books to read and complete a reading diary to receive a certificate. The majority of American inmates also have major difficulties with reading and writing. During my time at three prisons, there were countless times that I helped inmates draft a simple request to their case manager or a letter to home. I encountered young men and old men who could not read or write a simple sentence. Books also help an individual to see beyond their own little world and in the end to know himself better. As one English inmate wrote in his reading diary:

“Reading this book made me think about life; made me think why do I go round hitting people when there ain’t a reason for it? It must just be pain. But I’ve calmed down a lot, I need to stop fighting.”

Press Release (
National reading charity The Reading Agency has started work with the Quick Reads initiative and a group of prisons across the UK to run a One Quick Read One Prison project. The aim is to get as many prisoners and staff as possible within a prison to read, review and share views about the same book as part of The Reading Agency’s annual, nationwide Six Book Challenge scheme, which encourages less confident adult readers to develop a reading habit and improve their skills.

A total of 2550 copies of the six Quick Reads titles published in 2013 have been distributed to the seven prisons taking part in the project so that each can get prisoners and staff all reading, reviewing and talking about the same book. See ‘Notes for Editors’ for how the books have been matched to prisons.

“Seven out of ten prisoners say they have a learning or literacy problem,” says Nick Walmsley, regimes manager at HMP Pentonville. “We believe in the Six Book Challenge because we’ve seen it have a big impact at Pentonville. Getting prisoners literate will reduce re-offending rates because it gives them more opportunities in life.” HMP Pentonville received a gold award from The Reading Agency in 2012 for achieving 153 Six Book Challenge completers amongst its prisoners.

The Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge is designed to engage people with low literacy by encouraging them to develop a new reading habit at the same time as improving their skills. Taking part in the Six Book Challenge helps to give them greater access to employment and better life chances on release. More than 23,500 people registered for the scheme in 2012 through libraries, colleges, workplaces and prisons and 90% of survey respondents said that they were more confident about reading after taking part.

Participants are invited to pick six reads and complete a reading diary in order to receive a certificate. Among the most popular books for many participants are the Quick Reads titles, short books by top authors that are specially commissioned each year for less confident adult readers.

The Six Book Challenge is now run in 100 prisons each year with at least 4000 prisoners having taken part in 2012, including 1000 in London alone. Prison staff are also encouraged to take part as an effective way of breaking down barriers and opening up wider conversations about reading. This work is supported with funding from The City Bridge Trust and the Bromley Trust.

“Use of the Six Book Challenge in prisons is growing all the time as prison library staff and education tutors realise its potential for building confidence, skills and employability,” comments Genevieve Clarke, adult literacy specialist at The Reading Agency. “Focusing activity on this year’s strong list of Quick Reads is a great way to create a bigger buzz around the scheme.”

Cathy Rentzenbrink, project director for Quick Reads, says: “I’ve been doing my job for a year and was amazed to find out the extent to which the nation’s prisons are packed with people who struggle with reading. If you can’t read or write well enough to fill out forms everything about normal life is incredibly hard. We are delighted that the generous support of our publishers has enabled us to provide the books for this project as we know that engaging with books and reading helps prisoners to build both skills and confidence which should make them less likely to re-offend.”

Best-selling writer and former SAS soldier Andy McNab, ambassador for the Six Book Challenge, will be visiting HMYOI Portland in Dorset on 24 May to celebrate the distribution of 500 copies of his Quick Read title Today Everything Changes. This tells Andy’s own literacy journey from borstal to top author via the army, which he joined at 17 with the reading age of an 11-year-old.

Librarian Michele Vassar has planned a series of activities around the book at HMYOI Portland including a limerick competition, quiz and displays as well as encouraging everyone to read it as part of the Six Book Challenge.

“It is all about giving these lads confidence to take out of prison at the end of their sentence,” comments Andy McNab. “Confidence that they can walk into a library, bank or post office, confidence that they can fill in forms and ultimately, confidence to take control of their lives and hopefully not re-offend. It isn’t about mollycoddling criminals or giving them an easy ride, it’s about changing things for them so that we all, as a society, benefit when they come out.”

“There has been a great deal of interest in this year’s Six Book Challenge at HMP/YOI Portland,” reports Neil Davies, head of reducing re-offending. “We have had three times more than usual sign up to the Challenge so far. This has no doubt been influenced by the support of Andy McNab for the One Quick Read One Prison scheme. Encouraging prisoners to read is a powerful tool in preventing them from re-offending as it is, for some, the first steps in re-engaging with the education system.” (Please see ‘Notes to editors’ for more comments from HMP/YOI Portland prisoners about the Six Book Challenge.)

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7 Responses to Reading, Rehabilitation, & Lower Recidivism

  1. PrisonPath May 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    By Christopher–Rehabilitation would require a serious look at society. That’s where it would start since prisons don’t and cannot offer rehabilitation. Just dehabilitation.

  2. PrisonPath May 21, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    By Chas–The point is confusing because Correctional Industries has never been considered rehabilitation in the language of prison treatment specialists. It is a work program with its own checkered history that includes human exploitation and union busting tactics. Rehabilitation implies treatment following a medical model with some expectation of outcomes that provide long term remediation for the patient.
    Governor Brown is reacting in the swiftest manner possible to a court mandate to reduce the prison population and NOT due to overcrowding but to the related problem of inadequate service provision, especially to the mentally deficient. I agree that moving them from one jurisdiction to another inadequate jurisdiction does not help them.
    I am absolutely a proponent of vocational development and a professional practitioner for 20 years, but I am not under the illusion it is therapy that leads directly to recidivism reduction. No single modality can make that claim. If the return rate for this program is indeed less that 8%, there are other factors at play.
    The work of Ed Latessa, et al, at the University of Cincinnati has identified several factors that are effective against recidivism and recent work in the field has shown that progressive agencies employ at least four factors in their program for successful recidivism reduction. Employment is only one of these.

  3. PrisonPath May 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Mahesh– Hi, I am from the Mauritius Prison Service. This must be a very important program for prisoners. I would like to know if you have an Assessment Tool which may be used to determine the level of literacy and numeracy of an individual. This may help to decide in which level of adult education he may be enrolled. Otherwise, in Mauritius Prisons we make use of a peer support programme to address the issue of education: prisoners helping co-prisoners to learn and write. It is working marvelously.

  4. PrisonPath May 21, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    By Lorenn–Good ideas all of you! Without getting into the controversy of Gov Brown’s actions, etc, instead of focusing on “recidivism reduction,” I like working on approaches that promote desistance (it’s more a public health approach). If you haven’t read Shadd Maruna’s Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild Their Lives, you might appreciate it. The elements for desisting from crime and substance abuse are well known and we can make the opportunities for developing them a lot easier. Meaningful work and relationships with law abiding others are two of the most important things that people who desist have. The other book that should be required reading for anyone working in prisons is Phil Zimbardo’s, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil.

    Keep up good work everyone! Aloha, Lorenn

  5. PrisonPath May 22, 2013 at 2:49 am #

    By Mark–Thank you, Lorenn! Will definitely look into these concepts, practices, and resources! Best, Mark

  6. PrisonPath May 29, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    By Steven–Bradley, I ran into a new concept recently called “bibliotherapy”. I was studying up on the book “Houses of Healing” which is having a great effect inside the prison system. They said that the phenomenon of an isolated inmate reading a book and having a major life-changing experience is called “bibliotherapy”. If you think about it, this happens all the time. I know that many times in my jail-and-prison journey, I read a book that helped me tremendously. So I was doing it all along and just did not know it had a name!

    • Marybeth Zeman July 12, 2013 at 2:22 am #

      There is indeed a branch of Library Science called “bibliotherapy”, using books as the basis of therapy. It utilizes books as a means to open up communication, to continue communication, to shape topics and discussion and eventually lead the individual to his/her own self-actualization.
      In a place where budgets are thin and programs are cut, where the number of trained counselors decline in direct relation to the number of inmates who increase, what more cost effective way to provide therapy and rehabilitation.

      I have just created a school library and used our small book collection as a means of connecting with adolescent boys who mightn’t find any connection between us. It has been a rewarding connection. More therapy occurs, more insight is gained, more inroads are made.

      Yes, “bibliotherapy” is not just a concept.

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