From education to employment

New scheme to kickstart prison literacy drive and cut crime

prison stock
  • Government awards £1.8m to prepare more offenders for work and training
  • Two-year pilot first step to transforming literacy in prisons
  • Fewer than half of adult male prisoners have reading skills of an 11-year-old

Hundreds more prisoners will leave jail with the literacy skills needed to find work on release thanks to a new scheme aimed at transforming reading behind bars while cutting crime.

Two charities have been awarded £1.8m to pilot new reading and writing programmes over two years – getting more offenders into class and boosting their chances of securing work or training once through the prison gates.

Figures show fewer than half of the male prison population have the expected literacy levels of an 11-year-old, holding them back from charting the path towards a crime-free life.

The Shannon Trust is using the funding to recruit full-time staff to roll out prisoner-to-prisoner reading programmes across nine prisons, building on the support offered by existing volunteers to prisoners with little or no reading ability.

The National Literacy Trust will run monthly events at six prisons for more advanced readers, including reading groups and creative writing sessions, to build confidence, raise aspirations and encourage participants to share their stories.

Prisons and Probation Minister, Damian Hinds, said:

“Evidence shows that being able to read and write to a decent standard after prison can make all the difference between a positive, law-abiding life or a return to crime.

“From plotting a route to work or training, to paying the bills or shopping for food – these skills are crucial in keeping prisoners on the straight and narrow and the public safe.”

The new ‘Literacy Innovation Fund delivers on another key pledge in the Prisons Strategy White Paper and will involve 15 prisons across the country.

The pilots will offer crucial insights into best practices, with learnings used to shape the Government’s new Prisoner Education Service.

The new education service will boost education and skills across the prison regime, better support literacy and numeracy and provide clearer and stronger expectations that prisoners will acquire the additional qualifications they need to increase job prospects.

Rebecca Perry, Head of Adult Literacy and Criminal Justice, National Literacy Trust, said:

“We believe reading and writing for enjoyment has the power to transform a person’s relationship to literacy and that everyone should have access to those opportunities.

“Negative experiences of formal learning, and exclusion from school, are common themes among people in prison, so we ensure that our activities offer inspiring creative spaces that are accessible to all.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Literacy Innovation Fund will give us the opportunity to expand this much-needed work.”

Karen Ryan, Director of Prison Delivery, Shannon Trust, said:

“We are delighted to have been awarded this funding, which will help us to support even more people in prison to learn to read or improve their reading.

“We know that learning to read transforms not only the life of the learner, but everyone around them. It leads to stronger family relationships, improved prospects for work and education, and ultimately can reduce re-offending, building stronger communities.”

The award comes as the Prison Service recruits up to 100 full-time Heads of Education, Skills and Work across the estate – ensuring experienced oversight over the delivery of learning behind bars – following a successful pilot at 17 prisons.

The expert appointees will lead on curriculum design, ensure Ofsted compliance and work closely with businesses to determine skills gaps and needs, among other responsibilities.

The Government is investing £550 million over the next three years to reduce reoffending by getting offenders off drugs and into training, work and stable accommodation.

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