Shannon Trust exists to support people in the criminal justice system to learn to read and improve their numeracy skills, 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.


Shannon Trust programmes

Literacy levels among the prison population remain significantly lower than the general population. Around 60% of people in prison struggle to read. Many cannot read at all. And those figures are even higher for innumeracy, with around two thirds of the prison population having entry level maths skills.

Our programmes are designed to make it as easy as possible for an adult who has difficulty with reading and numbers, to begin to learn and improve their skills. Shannon Trust trains people in prison who can read and do maths 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 programme, Turning Pages, and numeracy programme, Count Me In, allows learners to go at their own pace and helps instil confidence as they progress.


Looking forward

HMPPS is still to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. The impact of this is likely to be felt for some time, 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.
  • A new Prison Education Service (PES) will be commissioned and in place by April 2025, 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.
  • His 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 want 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

Count Me In, our numeracy programme, launched across all prisons
Won silver award for best commercial partnership at the UK ARIAS with National Prison Radio
New 3-year strategy launched
12 month pilot of Turning Pages Digital launched to support people on probation in Kent, Surrey and Sussex
First contracted programme commissioned by Ministry of Justice
Pilot working with organisations in the community launched
Winner of the inaugural Action for Equity Award (LSE III)
External evaluation of Turning Pages by Birmingham City University
Turning Pages, our reading programme, launched across all prisons
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award
Winner - Guardian Charity Award
Centre for Social Justice Charity of the Year Award
First reading programme starts at HMP Wandsworth
Shannon Trust founded
Invisible Crying Tree published