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J = Jail. 70% of inmates in the U.S. are illiterate. Reading and writing is the key to preventing crime. Explore the Alphabet of Illiteracy

...is for Jail

Reading and writing is the key to preventing crime. 70% inmates in the U.S. are illiterate. 48% of Britain’s prison population struggle to read or write. Illiteracy creates a lack of aspirations, while teaching prisoners to read and write gives them another outlet and further opportunity.

US Department of Education 2015 /National Institute of Continuing Adult Education 2011

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How our partners have helped.

The National Literacy Trust’s Books Unlocked program, funded by the Booker Prize Foundation, supports prisoners and young offenders to increase their reading enjoyment and through reading, discussing and owning Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles. Books Unlocked works with the Prison Radio Association to broadcast audio books on National Prison Radio and distributes creative writing journals with tips from Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors. The program offers participants a holistic approach to developing reading and writing, while benefiting from the wider benefits associated with improved literacy.

The National Literacy Trust’s Books Unlocked program, funded by the Booker Prize Foundation, supports prisoners and young offenders to increase their reading enjoyment and through reading, discussing and owning Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles. Books Unlocked works with the Prison Radio Association to broadcast audio books on National Prison Radio and distributes creative writing journals with tips from Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors. The program offers participants a holistic approach to developing reading and writing, while benefitting from the wider benefits associated with improved literacy.

The National Literacy Trust is an independent UK charity that transforms lives through literacy. One person in six in the UK is held back by poor literacy skills that compromise employability, health, confidence and happiness.

They improve reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in communities where poverty is on the increase and where literacy levels are low.

Recent statistics have shown that literacy is a significant issue in prisons, with 48% of prisoners having a reading level at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old. Funded by the Booker Prize Foundation, the National Literacy Trust runs the innovative ‘Books Unlocked’ programme, a reading initiative working with prison and young offender institution reading groups across the UK.

Since 2012, Books Unlocked has been supporting prisoners and young offenders to increase their enjoyment and frequency of reading by offering them the opportunity to read, discuss and own Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Patron of the National Literacy Trust, expressed support for the Books Unlocked project in her speech at the Man Booker Prize ceremony in 2015.

As part of the programme, a number of Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors have visited prisons around the country to encourage prisoners to develop a love of reading. Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller and Patrick deWitt have all paid visits to participating reading groups, and Kelman explained how literature changed the course of his life for the better :

“I think I’ll always go back to being a crossroads age where I could’ve gone down the wrong path, and the thing that saved me was reading. The whole world is within the pages of a book.”

The impact on the programme has been telling, as one prisoner explains:

“It calms you, it does something to your way of thinking, it makes me slow down, it makes me understand. It makes you think to write something down could change things. [Books Unlocked] made it comfortable, made me feel like I'm actually a part of something. Reading…is to get an understanding of someone else’s life, to get an understanding of something beyond yourself.”

Books Unlocked also distributes creative writing journals with tips from Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors, in which participants can record their responses to books they have read and pursue their own writing.

Books Unlocked will continue to run visits with featured Man Booker Prize-shortlisted authors over the coming months and years, offering participants a holistic approach to developing skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening while also benefitting from the wider social outcomes associated with improved literacy and reading for enjoyment.

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The National Literacy Trust supports prisoners and young offenders to increase their literacy skills and enjoyment of reading.
I think I'll always go back to being a crossroads age where I could’ve gone down the wrong path, and the thing that saved me was reading. The whole world is within the pages of a book.
Stephen Kelman
  • 16%

    1 in 6 people in the UK are held back by poor literacy skills.

  • 48%

    48% of prisoners have a reading level at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.

  • 2012

    The year Books Unlocked started supporting prisoners and young offenders to read by offering Man Booker Prize-shortlisted titles to own, read, share and enjoy.

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