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Friday, May 27, 2022

Lack of reading lessons for prisoners a ‘major missed opportunity’: report

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Prisons fail to improve inmates’ literacy skills, which is a “major missed opportunity” to help inmates gain life skills.

A new combined report from Ofsted and the HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that prison leaders were too focused on prisoners achieving level 1 qualifications, despite the fact that up to half of the prison population lacked the literacy skills to participate.

In a survey of six prisons, inspectors also found that, in some cases, teachers were discouraged from reading books to inmates, meaning “relying on worksheets for inmates to complete, and the opportunity to demonstrate how reading a book could be enjoyable and pleasurable”. instruction was lost.

There was also a lack of adequate resources within prisons to help inmates learn to read, while many staff members did not know how to teach reading.

Early reading provision relied too heavily on voluntary organizations to offer this, according to the report, while in the prisons visited there was no routine phonics screening to see if inmates could read or how the reading plan should be planned. studies to fill in the gaps in their learning.

Prison libraries were rarely used to support inmate reading.

The report said teachers reported staffing shortages caused by the pandemic made getting inmates to the library “even more difficult.”

“In one prison, inmates had to fill out a form to request a book, restricting access to those who couldn’t write,” the report says.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “We know from our school inspections that children who struggle to read quickly fall behind and become disillusioned with education, and that this sometimes leads to behavioral problems and exclusions.”

He added: “It’s the same sad story with the prisoners. Lack of access to education maintains inequality and seriously reduces a prisoner’s chances of life.”

Ms. Spielman said that improving reading skills could improve inmates’ ability to get a job and give them access to other educational opportunities that would improve their prospects after prison.

Ofsted found that prisons “do not give the right priority to improving prisoners’ reading skills” and that prison leaders must “find a way to improve the basic reading skills of the large proportion of prisoners who currently lack them.” .

Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of the HM Inspectorate of Prisons, said it was “surprising” that prisoners could serve their sentence at a cost to the taxpayer of around £45,000 per year without improving their literacy skills.

“We know that many inmates have had an interrupted education and that a large number cannot read or are functionally illiterate, so it is very disappointing that this essential skill has such a low profile in prisons,” he added.

Mr. Taylor said that the contracts for education providers focused on Tier 1 qualifications rather than literacy skills. The problem is compounded by the lack of time prisoners spend outside their cells, which means that peer mentoring schemes, such as those organized by the Shannon Trust, where prisoners’ mentors would support their peers, are not prioritized or failed to move forward.

“The failure to teach prisoners to read or extend literacy to poor readers is a huge missed opportunity,” he said.

“It means that many prisoners don’t get the benefits of reading while in prison. And it means that many will not learn the essential skills that will help them get back on their feet, get jobs and succeed in their lives when they are released.”

Peter Cox, managing director of Novus, a prison education social enterprise, said: “Reading is a fundamental skill and the starting point for learning, yet many prisoners arrive in their cells unable to read due to a host for complex reasons.

“The biggest obstacle to improving inmate literacy is the budget available for prison education, which does not cover the needs.”

Kelly, a former prisoner, said: “Not being able to read well, or at all, means that many people in prison have really limited options when it comes to their life after release and it increases their likelihood of re-offending.

“During my time in prison, I met many women who could not read or write. Things that most of us take for granted, like being able to read a job vacancy, fill out an application form, or write a CV, seemed like an impossible task.

“I have had the privilege of mentoring people in prison and helping them improve their reading and writing skills. Seeing a person learn to read and write and change her life after being caught in the revolving door of recidivism was just amazing.”

Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins said: “We are determined to protect the public and reduce reopening through our ambitious plans to educate and rehabilitate offenders.

“The vast majority of prisons have returned to face-to-face education since the period covered by this report, following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

“Through our White Paper on Prisons, we will implement skills training, employment opportunities and abstinence-based drug treatment to equip more offenders for a crime-free life, reducing recidivism and protecting the public.”


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