We announced our aim for 10,000 prisoners to participate in the Six Book Challenge across the UK in 2015 at a launch event at HMP Brixton on Monday 9 February.
With support from organisations such as the Prison Radio Association, Quick Reads, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Prison Reading Groups, the Shannon Trust Reading Plan and Give a Book, the Six Book Challenge will be used to increase literacy skills among prisoners, helping to reduce reoffending rates and increase their life chances upon release.
At least 110 libraries in prisons and young offender institutions have committed to running the Six Book Challenge in 2015, which encourages less confident or lapsed readers to pick any six reads of their choice - magazine and newspaper articles, song lyrics, poems or comics as well as books - and record their reading in a diary to receive a certificate. There are already 1500 participants and 500 completers in prisons just a month into 2015.
Event at HMP Brixton
Guests at Monday's event, held in The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton for prison library staff and Six Book Challenge supporters, were welcomed by Sally Hill, the prison's deputy governor, and Genevieve Clarke from The Reading Agency.
The keynote speaker was former life prisoner and Guardian journalist Erwin James, who spoke about the key role of reading in rehabilitation and his own experience. He said: "Books really opened up an opportunity for me... Reading is as powerful an intervention in changing behaviour patterns as anything. A good book can change the way we think about life."
Kelly Alexander, library manager and Clive Anderson, learning, skills and employment manager at HMP YOI Glen Parva, said: "Often the prisoners have only had criticism, not responsibility or praise. When you read their reviews, you can see they've gained confidence. Someone asking for their opinion can be a real boost."
Image shows Matt Lee from HMP Lewes, author Dreda Say Mitchell and Emma Bach from HMP Lewes.
Prison radio campaign
Early participation figures for the 2015 Six Book Challenge in England and Wales have been boosted by a successful six-week promotional campaign on National Prison Radio which reaches 73,000 prisoners in 104 prisons according to the Prison Radio Association. The campaign - which featured interviews with Russell Brand as well as Six Book Challenge champions Martina Cole and Andy McNab - was supported by NOMS, helping make available extra materials and incentives for participants.
"The radio campaign has been a resounding success for us," said David Kendall of The Reading Agency. "More prisons are taking part and with more prisoners than ever before at this stage of the year."
"What a pleasure to have been involved in such an important and successful partnership project," commented Phil Maguire, chief executive of the Prison Radio Association. "As the broadcast partner, the Prison Radio Association helped ensure the Six Book Challenge reached the widest possible prisoner audience. All of those involved deserve to be congratulated, especially National Prison Radio's prisoner-producers who brought the Six Book Challenge to life on-air, and those listening to the station in their cells who took up this inspirational Challenge."
Nearly ninety per cent of survey respondents say that they are more confident about reading after taking part in the Six Book Challenge. In 2014 the programme reached well over 30,000 people across the UK through further education and sixth form colleges, public libraries, adult community learning settings, army education centres and workplaces and 9000 through prisons.
Find out more about the Six Book Challenge
Find out how to run the Challenge at your organisation