There is an urgent need for more literacy support in UK prisons. Nearly half (46%) of people who have entered prison since August 2014 have low literacy skills, compared to 15% of the general population, according to new figures from the government.
Her Majesty's Young Offenders' Institution (HMYOI) Glen Parva is one of around 125 prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs) that we work with to promote reading for pleasure and, by doing so, help prisoners improve their literacy skills. Along with five others, it will feature in a six-week campaign on National Prison Radio from today (17 November) encouraging prisoners to head to their library to take part in Reading Ahead (formerly the Six Book Challenge).
The three prisoners above were interviewed for a feature on BBC Radio 4's PM show in November and are among 13,500 who took part in the Six Book Challenge in 2015 from across the UK. They also helped HMYOI Glen Parva to win a gold award for achieving 172 completers - one of 13 prisons to get this accolade this year.
New radio campaign
Reading Ahead has a valuable part to play in inspiring and supporting prisoners to improve their skills. For a second year, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is supporting The Reading Agency to get even more prisons involved alongside the new radio campaign.
Over the next six weeks there will be programmes focusing on six prisons - Thameside, Lewes, Erlestoke, Deerbolt, Drake Hall and Glen Parva - as well as a final event from Pentonville to be broadcast just after Christmas. Two former prisoners, trained as radio presenters by the Prison Radio Association, will host the programmes.
Reading Ahead ambassadors
Each programme will include an interview with a writer on a visit to one of the prisons. Reading Ahead ambassador Martina Cole (pictured here signing her latest bestseller Get Even) has already visited Thameside and our newest ambassador Bali Rai will be talking to prisoners at Glen Parva in December. Cathy Rentzenbrink, director of Quick Reads, will be talking to women prisoners at Drake Hall about her memoir The Last Act of Love. And popular philosopher Roman Krznaric, graphic novelist Ilya and poet Mr Gee will all be talking about their own styles of writing.
This year we are working more closely with education departments in prisons as well as with prison libraries so that tutors help to champion reading for pleasure to support skills development as part of positive rehabilitation. The Reading Agency has also responded to the current review of prison education led by Dame Sally Coates for Secretary of State Michael Gove.
Please get in touch if you would like to know more about our work in prisons or how to run Reading Ahead in your own organisation.
Take a look at our case studies and resources for ideas on how you can run the programme.
Offenders who complete Reading Ahead are given a pocket dictionary and thesaurus thanks to the generosity of charity Give a Book.