The challenge

For most of us reading is a skill we take for granted. For thousands of people in prison, however, reading a letter from home, a job application or a newspaper is simply beyond them.

Just under 50% of people in prison have a literacy level at or below that expected of a primary school leaver and below the level needed for successful employment. Those who are unable to read on release will be frustrated in their hopes for a new and different life. Shannon Trust is breaking that cycle with the Shannon Trust Reading Plan, a peer-mentored Reading Plan that gives prisoners a vital skill and a fresh start in life.

Prisoners who can’t read often feel embarrassed, vulnerable and isolated when faced with being unable to read letters from home, know what they are choosing from the meal menu or make an application for health care.  Not being able to read also reduces their access to training and rehabilitation programmes and on release non-readers are precluded from 90% of jobs, reducing their chances of successful rehabilitation. The reasons why someone has reached adulthood without learning to read are numerous and various:- many have specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or disrupted school experience; too often it is simply that they didn’t have someone in their life with time and patience to teach them.  

The one-to-one peer mentored approach of Shannon Trust Reading Plan appeals to prisoners who are reluctant to engage in classroom learning. It allows them to progress at their own pace and they gain confidence in themselves when they realise that they too can successfully learn to read.  There are benefits too for the Mentors in terms of raising their self-confidence and self-worth.

Our peer-mentored approach is fundamental to the success of the Reading Plan. It is important that prisoners taking part have a sense of ownership but equally necessary that prison regimes ensure strategies are in place so that the Reading Plan is available across the whole prison and mentoring can take place regularly.