Shannon Trust exists to support as many people as possible in the criminal justice system to learn to read, so they can pursue wider opportunities and thrive in the community.

Christopher Morgan’s story

People walking across the top level of a prison wing

Shannon Trust was the brainchild of Christopher Morgan, borne out of a series of letters with a life sentenced prisoner, Tom Shannon.

Christopher joined the Prison Reform Trust’s penfriend scheme which aimed to give people in prison a window to the world. Through Tom’s letters, Christopher learned about prison life and the shocking levels of poor literacy in prisons. 

It was from this correspondence that Christopher came up with the idea to develop a reading programme that would allow prisoners who can read to teach those who can’t.

The programme was piloted at HMP Wandsworth in 2001, and now Shannon Trust works with all prisons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, reaching thousands of learners and mentors each year.

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Shannon Trust reading programme

Literacy levels among the prison population remain significantly lower than the general population. Over 50% of people in prison struggle to read. Many cannot read at all.

Our reading programme is designed to make it as easy as possible for an adult who has difficulty with reading, to begin to learn and improve their skills. Shannon Trust trains prisoners who can read to work on a one-to-one basis with learners. Each session is short, flexible and takes place in a safe, comfortable space away from formal learning.

Our reading resources, Turning Pages, allows learners to go at their own pace and helps instill confidence as they progress.

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Looking forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people living or working in prison. For many living in prison, time out of cell was severely restricted, presenting major challenges to wellbeing, education, rehabilitation and the ability to create positive change. We are hopeful that during 2022 restrictions will ease, day-to-day prison life will rebound and education-related activity will gather pace. However, the impact of the pandemic is likely to be felt for some time to come, as prisons continue to adjust to changed circumstances. We can see other ‘big picture’ changes that will shape prison education and the criminal justice system during the coming decade: 

  • By 2030 the prison population is likely to have risen to c100,000, increasing overall demand for education whilst in prison, as well as post-release. This means that demand in prison for basic literacy support – and other basic skills like numeracy – will increase, as will the opportunity to offer continued learning post-release
  • The current UK Government is committed to building a number of new, larger prisons, most probably with lower staff levels. Alongside this we are likely to see further ‘deep regime change’ meaning that time out of cell will remain lower in historical terms, but that time will be more structured, with a greater focus on purposeful activity. This is an opportunity for those providing prison education to adapt delivery models
  • The UK Government is also committed to forming a new Prison Education Service (PES) by the end of this Parliament, with an increased focus on basic literacy and numeracy, highlighted in the recent Prisons Strategy White Paper. Current provision through the Prison Education Framework (PEF) does not serve everyone in prison well; the inability to read, combined with many people’s poor childhood experiences of mainstream education, means that take up of PEF provision is unrealistic for a large group of people. This can be addressed
  • Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is increasingly recognising the importance of digital resources for people in prison, and more investment in digital infrastructure is taking place. Demand for access to digital resources is growing amongst learners too

This changing picture – and the need to do much more to address low literacy and low numeracy – has provided our organisation with clear signals that change is necessary, if we are to ensure that nobody is left out of learning. At Shannon Trust, we believe in the power of reading and education to change lives for the better. Now, our clear aim is to make that a reality for more people.

Key Shannon Trust moments

2022
New 3-year strategy launched
2021
Pilot working with offenders in the community launched
2017
Winner of the inaugural Action for Equity Award (LSE III)
2016
External evaluation of Turning Pages by Birmingham City University
2015
Turning Pages, our reading scheme launched across all prisons
2012
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award
2009
Winner - Guardian Charity Award
2004
Centre for Social Justice Charity of the Year Award
2001
First reading programme starts at HMP Wandsworth
1997
Shannon Trust founded
1995
Invisible Crying Tree published