How does The Reading Revolution fit in with the vision and goals of Corrections?

Our project fits best within the Corrections library programming. We have a similar mission to public librarians. This is based on encouraging and developing a passion for reading that contributes to confidence and lifelong learning. We can enrich what the library is currently offering prisoners with our Shared Reading groups.

Chris O’Brian states (Corrections Department NZ Media Release 2014, Library Patronage Booming at Canterbury Prisons.) that “prison libraries play an important role in developing literacy skills; offering a valuable constructive activity, helping offenders develop new interests and an understanding of the world.” Prison librarian Sue Smith then elaborates on the value of reading for prisoners.

“Reading is such an important activity. It is relaxing and constructive, helping develop knowledge and vocabulary. There is also research which suggests that reading fiction is important for developing understanding and empathy in the reader….Most importantly we develop readers and we help prisoners to see themselves as lifelong learners. Once someone starts to really engage with ideas and information we can them on a journey of discovery.”

(Corrections Department NZ Media Release 2014, Library Patronage Booming at Canterbury Prisons.)

Shared Reading Groups also promote social bonding. By modelling respectful, caring behaviour the facilitator creates a safe space for relationships to develop between participants. This extract from the Corrections NZ website describes the value of empowering relationships in preventing recidivism:

“Benda (2005) studied Sampson and Laub’s position “that desistance from crime can be explained by social bonding that occurs in adulthood” transitions that represent turning points in people’s life-course trajectories” (p. 325) with 300 male and female graduates from a boot camp in the U.S.A. The study findings reveal that “childhood and recent sexual and physical abuse, adverse feelings, living with a criminal partner, and drug use are particularly powerful predictors of women’s recidivism” (Benda, 2005, p. 337). In addition, “all life transition, except years of education, are inversely and significantly related to recidivism” and “forming a family with a caring partner serves as a buffer for women” (Benda, 2005, p. 337). Covington (1998) also points to women’s “capacity for relatedness and connection” as a particular source of strength. Attachment and relationships are important for women and “focus on female development and mutual, caring, and empowering relationships can be useful tools for correctional programs for women and girls” (p. 6). (Department of Corrections. Risk Factors for Repeated Criminal Behaviour.)


Research supporting Shared Reading with Women in Prisons.

In the UK The Reader Organisation has partnered up with the University of Liverpool to study the psychological benefits of Shared Reading groups. One of their research projects was set in a women’s prison. (Billington. J.,  & Robinson. J. (2013). An Evaluation of a Pilot Study of a Literature Based intervention with Women in Prison). The research states that four areas of wellbeing; emotional/psychological, social, educational and organisational wellbeing were all nurtured by participating in Shared Reading groups. (pp. 5-6.)

The reading groups were considered by the women to be a form of “disciplined relaxation” (p11.) A part of this relaxation was the aspect of personal freedom and self expression felt within the group. Attendance in Shared Reading groups is always voluntary and there is no direct reward offered for attendance. (pp.12-13.) A feeling of freedom and relaxation  is possible because there are no specific “goals” for attendees to achieve. Feeling relaxed allows people to engage with a text in an open way, relating their personal experiences and feelings to the story. If we are not stressed about having to remember or understand the material in a prescribed fashion for an exam or essay we don’t have fear of embarrassment or “getting it wrong.” Then we can engage our imagination and find a richer shared interpretation.

“The act of shared reading did appear to create a special social and emotional space within which the reading and the discussions took place. Reading aloud created an affect between the readers and listeners, resulting in a mutual absorption and concentration.” (p.16.)

How Might Shared Reading Help Prevent Recidivism?

The “enhancement model” is proposed as potentially valuable to female offenders by The Department of Corrections in an article on recidivism. Shared Reading Groups provide both the direct benefits of the  “primary goods” described below and the agency of the “secondary goods”.

“The Good Lives Model or enhancement model “is concerned with the enhancement of offenders” capabilities in order to attain primary human goods, and by doing so, reduce their chances of committing further crimes against the community when they are released from prison. Primary human goods are states of affairs, states of mind, personal characteristics, activities, or experiences that are sought for their own sake and are likely to increase psychological well-being if achieved. … In no particular order, the primary goods are: life (including healthy living and functioning), knowledge, excellence in work and play (including mastery experiences), excellence in agency (i.e., autonomy and self-directedness), inner peace (i.e., freedom from emotional turmoil and stress), friendship (including intimate, romantic, and family relationships), community, spirituality (in the broad sense of finding meaning and purpose in life), happiness, and creativity. Instrumental or secondary goods provide concrete ways (or the means) of securing these goods, for example, certain types of work (i.e., good of mastery), relationships (i.e., good of intimacy), or leisure activities (i.e., good of play)” (Ward & Gannon, in press, p. 3). (Department of Corrections, Risk, Need and Responsivity.)

Can the Reading Revolution replicate the UK success for NZ prisoners?

While our work in prison in still in it’s early days, we have also been running three Shared Reading groups in which participants have experienced many of the benefits described in the UK research.

UK feedback:

  • “I see it as a group that has a lot of mutual respect. I know the reader’s very very, kind of keen and blatantly obvious, which is positive, that he wants everyone to take part, everyone to be comfortable and he’ll not let anyone disrespect anybody else. So I think what you may have is the wider ethos, which at the end of the day is created by women and by the staff, then kind of feeding the smaller ethos…it’s like ripples in a pond but it’s kind of like ripples in both ways!” (p.22.)
  • The literature had the potential to enable the women to discuss scenarios of action and reaction, and to trace actions and look at the consequences of behaviours , including the impact on others. “Actually that can be used in treatment… once they’ve started to realise that things aren’t always what they seem or that people deal with things in different ways because they’ll see characters doing things differently in different books, so I think that can be quite helpful, especially with people who are really rigid, or don’t have much insight into their own behaviour.” (p.23)
  • “We’re all learning to communicate better.  That’s a really important tool.” “I think all the stories we read teach us that we shouldn’t judge people we come into contact with.  We make judgments all the time – we do when we’re reading about characters in the stories.  We all need to take people as we find them.” “You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place.  In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things.  And we’re listening to each other.  I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.” (Reader Stories: Greater Manchester Probation Trust.)

 Feedback from our Shared Reading groups:

  • “Kate endeavors to include everyone, is cool and collected and aware of what’s going on.”
  • “It’s interesting what people feel they can talk about, either something that helps someone else or by talking about the story but not ourselves directly.”
  • “We are very private people. Although we live in a village, we like to retain our privacy. The group allows us to be together while retaining privacy.”

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