Welcome to 'One Page'. In this monthly newsletter, I will talk about the people I have met, and the things I have read or seen relating to Shannon Trust's vision, which is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. I hope these short pieces will start conversations, generate new ideas, and help our vision become a reality.
In March 2022, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, and his team reported that the teaching of reading in prisons was not a priority. This meant too many people in prison left without getting a chance to improve their literacy skills.
One year on, a follow up blog talks about the progress he and his team have seen. Charlie Taylor believes there has been a shift in perception, and reading is now seen as a critical part of rehabilitation. He mentions some ongoing practical difficulties, including staff shortages and other claims on time out of cells. Although these points are a concern, what’s most important to me is the shift in perception. We need everyone involved to see how much reading matters to people in prison, for their time in prison as well as for their future. It’s this changing attitude that influences priorities, and can solve the practical issues.
As Charlie Taylor stresses, the gift of reading goes much deeper than increasing someone’s chances of finding work when they leave prison.
“Reading,” he says “provides an escape from reality, it helps us relax, reduces stress, feeds the imagination, grows empathy, and helps us understand other peoples’ perspectives.” It’s easy to see how much this could mean to those living and working in prison.
Alongside this, one ambition in the Government’s Prisons Strategy White Paper, is to increase training and encourage those in custody to gain skills that will help them build a life away from crime after release.
This comes from investing in programmes that work. I’ve mentioned the need for investment before, in connection with our Turning Pages Digital app. Since my last One Page, I’m delighted that Shannon Trust will receive funding through the Literacy Innovation Fund. This means we can recruit full-time staff across 9 prisons, to boost our peer led reading programme.
I have often talked about the strength of our peer to peer approach; people in prison who can read helping those who cannot. Both the learner and mentor benefit through this, and it’s made a real difference to many peoples’ lives since we began in HMP Wandsworth, back in 2001.
Now, with Shannon Trust staff working in prisons, alongside our small army of volunteers, we can offer these benefits on a bigger scale. Learners will continue to work one to one with a mentor, allowing them to work at their own pace. This often grows into a bond that can mean more than reading or doing basic maths.
Many of those who find themselves in the criminal justice system did not have a positive experience with formal education. I believe that learning in a different way, out of a classroom setting and with someone who understands what prison is like, from the inside, can make all the difference.
But the programmes need support from staff to help it grow.
Prison service colleagues are valued advocates for Shannon Trust. At the same time, we recognise how many demands they have. Having someone dedicated to our work, in an individual prison, gives our reading and maths support greater visibility, and becomes a priority. This helps with some of the practical difficulties Charlie Taylor mentions in his blog, like unlocking mentors and learners so they can spend time together, and having quiet spaces available. It also means quicker training and support for our mentors, as there’s someone there on site. Our prison facilitator, Danielle talks about her work at HMP Onley.
When the Shannon Trust team works alongside prison librarians and educators, it shows staff and people in prison that support for learning matters to the prison. It inspires learners to ask for help with reading and maths, and it encourages mentors to get involved, because there’s recognition and structure, and support in place to help them in their role.
It also shows how literacy and numeracy can be key steps in moving away from crime. There’s greater chance to get a job in prison, join prison education courses, become a Shannon Trust mentor, and increase career opportunities after release. Not to mention reading for pleasure, inspiration and escape, and building better connections with family and friends.
I am delighted that Charlie Taylor has seen the positive steps forward with reading in prisons, but we know there is still more work to do.
Please get in touch if anything I have written resonates with you; whether you agree, disagree or have a suggestion for how we can improve what we do.
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